Booksmart Clip

While many have labeled the SXSW hit Booksmart the female version of Superbad (and not just because the former co-stars Jonah Hill’s sister, Beanie Feldstein), that seems slightly unfair since this film has loftier emotional ambitions. Helmed by actor-turned-first-time-director Olivia Wilde, Booksmart concerns two high school seniors—Molly (Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever—who want to change the course of their entire high school experience on the day before they graduate. The best friends have spent the last four years concentrating on scholastic achievements and put aside all thoughts of partying or socializing in any form with anyone but each other in the hopes of getting into the best colleges. But on the last day of school, Molly is confronted with the almost-unspeakable truth that all of the kids who had fun and partied every weekend also got into great schools, leaving her on a quest to have her last night as a high school student be one of throwing caution to the wind and going to a rager with best buddy.

The entire film takes place over the course of roughly a single 24-hour period, and during the course of that day, secrets and deeply buried feelings come to the surface, both girls have their friendship tested and hearts broken, and learn that judging the other kids in their school based on their public persona is perhaps a massive mistake.

Feldstein is just starting to build an impressive filmography with memorable supporting roles in such works as Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising and Lady Bird, as well as the FX series What We Do in the Shadows, while Dever has made a reputation for herself from a young age as a hugely talented actor in some very serious roles, including parts in Short Term 12, The Spectacular Now, Detroit, The Front Runner, and perhaps most memorably in the second season of FX’s Justified, in which she co-starred with Margo Martindale in one of the greatest seasons of television in modern memory. Seeing her play comedy in Booksmart with such gusto only adds to the lost list of what she’s capable of as a performer.

/Film recently spoke with Dever and Feldstein about bonding with each other and their director, the film’s powerhouse supporting cast of largely unknowns, and how celebrating intelligence is key to the film’s humor. Bookmsart is currently in theaters nationwide.

Why do you think it is that people far older than the characters in this movie—myself included—are identifying with the characters in this movie? Have you given any though to the universal nature of the message of this film?

Beanie: My dad doesn’t always like everything that me or anyone in my family does, but he loved this movie, genuinely, more than anything I’ve ever been in. He laughed harder than any person at the premiere; I was shocked. You’re not alone in feeling that; he’s 67.

Kaitlyn: It’s amazing. I think it’s so great that people think, even looking at the poster, that it’s a comedy with two women, but it’s not just for young girls; it’s for everybody. There is someone for everybody in this movie, and I think that’s so incredible.

Beanie: Also, I think everyone is judged at some point in their life. First of all, everyone goes to high school in some capacity, hopefully. Everyone has some sort of stereotype put onto them by society, and I think what our film does is bust that wide open.

Kaitlyn: Also, I think we’re guilty of judging others.

Beanie: Totally!

Kaitlyn: It’s so relatable in that way.

It took me a while to realize that there are no bad guys in this movie. There’s no bully characters. Everyone is both doing it to others and being a victim of it at the same time.

Kaitlyn: I think it really represents the generation right now, where young people are more inclusive, very evolved, very intelligent, and I think these people don’t really care who you are. There’s so much love in this generation.

The word that kept popping in my head was “inviting.” Everything about this movie invites everyone in.

Beanie: That’s so great.

What do you remember about reading the script the first time? What hooked you about your characters?

Kaitlyn: For me, it was about getting the opportunity to be funny in a leading role with Beanie. As a young woman, we’re rarely given the opportunity to lead the charge in a movie and also be funny.

Beanie: Especially next to another young woman.

Kaitlyn: Yeah, sometimes there’s the female lead, but rarely two.

Beanie: And they’re not competitive; they’re best friends. With Molly, she’s unapologetic, and that’s something I aspire to be, and sometimes it’s a bit much at her end. She’s ferocious and passionate, but we also get to see her be silly and loose and vulnerable at times. Every character in the film, as you mentioned, is multi-dimensional, and the film is celebrating that and seeing that in each other. And it’s so funny, so I was like “Yes, yes, yes, if they’ll have me, it’s a no-brainer.”

You’ve done many comedies, Beanie, but Kaitlyn, you have had a long career of playing some very serious characters. That was my biggest curiosity about this movie was seeing how you play comedy, and you aren’t telling jokes, you’re just doing really funny things. Was there something about the girls’ goal about focusing so much on something that they forget to live life that you could identify with?

Kaitlyn: I feel like everybody at some point gets caught up in trying to reach a goal or thinking that is the end-all in your life, and if this doesn’t happen, everything is over. That is another reason people are relating to it so much; it’s another universal thing. I’ve felt like that about acting, where I feel like I work too hard. Or in school, I could have maybe stayed out a little later. But again, it’s about not having regrets, so I try not to dwell on it.

Beanie: I feel like when you care about something so much that you want to invest every ounce of your being into it, and that Molly and Amy—they care about each other and they care about school. At the same time, you want to enjoy the process of being passionate and working on something, and sometimes when you care so much, you get stressed and you’re not enjoying why you’re doing it. What I love about them, they aren’t questioning if they’re fun; they know they’re fun. They just haven’t been able to express it to other people outside of each other. And that is what’s so special about the beginning of the movie, what gets you to the ride. It wasn’t like “We don’t know if we can go to a party and hang out withe people and have fun.” They know that they’re fun.

Kaitlyn: They’ve just been choosing not to.

Beanie: They put up their own wall, and they’re realizing they should probably take it down, versus continuing to think that they don’t know how to mingle with the laymen around them.

I love the way you declare that you are fun. It’s so sure and yet not sure.

Kaitlyn: I was just about to say, that was one of my favorite moments shooting. That was our first scene, having that picnic. “We’re smart and fun!” Okay, we’ll see.

A lot of the humor of the film is about how smart you are.

Kaitlyn: For women, sometimes we see, we think it’s funny when a woman starts acting crazy or when she dumbs herself down to be accepted. That was one of the things I loved about Booksmart; their relationship is funny in the way they speak to each other. That’s where the comedy is.

Beanie: I took a few classes at UCB [Upright Citizens Brigade] in New Yokr right after I graduated from college, and their big catch phrase is always “Play to the top of your intelligence.” And that is the style of humor that is exhibited in Booksmart. It’s so in line with that philosophy, but their intelligence is way higher than everyone else. But I love that. I love their intensity and passion and intellect. You’re not laughing at them; you’re laughing at how bright they are. Who has Malala as a code word? But it’s incredible. It’s so singular, and I don’t think either of us had every seen or read anything like that before.

This is Olivia Wilde’s first feature. Tell me about the first time you met with her about this, because in a sense, she had to audition for you as well. She had to prove she had a vision that you wanted to be a part of. What do you remember about those initial conversations?

Kaitlyn: She’s such an incredible actor that I already knew. The way she speaks, she’s so intelligent, and I really look up to her. She’s one of the smartest people I’ve met in my life. We both had our first meetings with her separately, and then we had a meeting with her together, and that’s when we first met. I had been sent the script two year prior, and I’d been waiting patiently for it to be made because I wanted to be a part of it so badly, and it was finally happening and she was directing it. So sitting down with her was crazy because I knew immediately. She said, “I feel like high school is war and Booksmart needs to portray that.” And that was one of the first things that got me.

Beanie: It’s like Training Day for high school.

Kaitlyn: She had so many ideas, and nothing was stopping her from making Booksmart the best it could be. I remember sitting down with one of our producers, Jessica Elbaum, early on, and she was like “This is such a special movie that it needs to be as good as possible because it’s going to speak to generations.”

Beanie: Once I was already attached, Olivia sent me an email about [writer] Katie Silberman, and way she spoke about Katie was so giving and thoughtful, and the spirit of collaboration that was in the email alone made me so glad they had picked me. But once I got that email, I knew I was in something special with her. They way she collaborates with people is exceptional, and she took a chance on so many people. Booksmart is a film by people who had something to prove. Olivia had something to prove because she’d never directed a feature; neither of us had ever led a movie before; this was a big opportunity for our DP; and so many of our department heads. So many of the cast had never been in a film before. When you have all of that together and believe the way Olivia does, that’s why you get this movie. She took a chance on people who weren’t established; that’s kind of a rock star move, and Liv is a rock star.

The younger actors who play your classmates, I don’t think I’d seen most of them before. They are all fully formed and each get their moment to shine here. Talk about being at the center of this universe.

Kaitlyn: That’s what makes films like Fast Times at Ridgemont High so beautiful. Those movies are about the ensemble.

Beanie: Even Bridesmaids wouldn’t be Bridesmaids without the ensemble.

Kaitlyn: Often times in movies, especially in films for younger people, the cast are hired off of how many Instagram followers they have. At least I see that as an actor.

Influencers. It makes me shudder just thinking about it.

Kaitlyn: Olivia never wanted that. She went into this thinking “I have to hire the best possible person for this role.” And that’s what made it so good.

Beanie: The entire cast is exceptional. Molly Gordon plays Triple A, and she has been my best friend in the world for 10 years, so the fact that we got to be in the film together will forever be so special.

That scene you two have together in the car is my favorite of the whole film because it’s so precisely about the message of the film, which is “Stop judging people you don’t know.”

Beanie: Yes. When you see her in those little shorts in the first scene, you project so much onto that girl. But she ends up being the voice of reason in the film. That moment in the car, knowing Molly, she’s giving this transformative performance—she’s nothing like that. And we had those moments with everyone, like Skylar [Gisondo], who plays Jared, shook me in some scenes with how amazing he was. And watching Diane [Silvers] in Kaitlyn’s scenes, I’m just blown away by the two of them together.

The whole thing looks so effortless, but were there specific moments that were tougher for whatever reason, emotionally or otherwise?

Beanie: I hated seeing her upset during the fight. [laughs] That made me really upset. I can still see it in my mind’s eye, just seeing her shaking.

Kaitlyn: Yeah, that was kind of hard.

Beanie: I don’t learn languages well, so that scene in Mandarin was a stretch.

Thank you both so much. I cannot wait to see what happens to your character in What We Do in the Shadows.

Beanie: Oh yeah! Just you wait.

And what you and Margo Martindale did on Justified changed the way I looked at television.

Kaitlyn: Oh my god, thank you so much. She changed my life, she really did. So nice to meet you.

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