Beyond Booksmart: Three Movies For High School Smarties

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Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, Booksmart, just hit theaters and I’m personally obsessed with it! The movie, which stars the delightful duo of Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever, follows two hard-working high school seniors who are the best of friends. However, when they discover that their peers were somehow capable of partying and getting into good colleges, the girls embark on a mission to party down on the night before graduation to be sure they’ve had the full high school experience.

Booksmart is special for a multitude of reasons. Its feminist undertones, pitch-perfect casting and fully-realized characters are just a few reasons that the movie sticks with its audience. I cannot recommend it highly enough as a great, lady-centered comedy with heart to kick off your summertime.

But we can only watch Booksmart so many times in theaters without hitting the wallet pretty hard, so I’ve come up with three movies I recommend checking out if you loved Booksmart and want a walk down memory lane with some bright, funny high schoolers.

Lady Bird

Some people will walk out of Booksmart saying, “Oh my God. This was my life. This was my high school experience.” In fact, I’ve already had a couple of friends say that exact thing about the film!

For me, that feeling of having my exact high school experiences depicted onscreen came from the critically acclaimed Greta Gerwig-directed Lady Bird. Though I didn’t have the mom-daughter drama experience of Lady Bird, little details hit home and made me feel like someone had somehow captured my high school memories and changed them just enough to make it a fictional account. I don’t know…maybe I was the only person who spontaneously burst into tears when Lady Bird’s friend auditioned with the song Giants in the Sky, because one of my high school best friends used to audition with that song all the time.

Even if you don’t hold the personal identification with Lady Bird like I do, this movie is ideal to follow up Booksmart for several reasons. Perhaps the most important is that one of Booksmart’s top stars, Beanie Feldstein, plays Lady Bird’s bff, Julie. Feldstein is amazing in both movies, playing her characters with heart and sincerity that is exhilarating to behold. Her star is only going to keep rising, and I cannot wait to see what other projects are in her future!

Beyond the Beanie Feldstein appreciation, Lady Bird is also a good follow-up to Booksmart because it’s an honest, thoughtful depiction of the difficulties of negotiating high school identity. And, like Booksmart, its overtly feminine worldview makes it a special addition to the canon of “high school movies.’

Juno

This isn’t a movie that’s so much a “high school movie” as it is a movie about people who just happen to be, you know, in high school. However, when I thought about movies that capture a bit of the experience of watching Booksmart, Juno immediately popped into my mind.

Though she eventually got some flak for the goofiness of phrases like “Honest to blog?” Juno’s screenwriter, Diablo Cody, did have a powerful grasp of the way teens are often able to create their own idiosyncratic language patterns that only hold meaning in their own insular cultural bubble. Juno speaks differently than pretty much anyone in the real world…but that somehow makes it feel like she really does belong in the real world, because teen-speak is a mysterious tool.

In Booksmart, both of the main characters also have their own patterns of relating to each other. Most notably, when one of them is trying to say “I NEED you to do this favor for me, no questions asked,” they say something like, “I’m calling a Malala” (In reference to feminist icon Malala Yousafzai). If you’re craving this kind of linguistic specificity from your teen characters, it might be worth revisiting Juno.

10 Things I Hate About You

Though it’s much more rom-com-y than any of the other entries in my list, this late-90’s classic is actually a great choice to follow up the high school vibes of Booksmart.

Booksmart received a lot of praise for its nuanced depiction of different groups in high school (theater kids, party kids, etc.) without making the cliquey lines that hard to cross. 10 Things I Hate About You does maintain a clique-centered look at high school through David Krumholtz’s tour of the school at the start of the movie, but the teen experiences still resonate with plot points in Booksmart.

First of all, the entire plot of 10 Things I Hate About You is propelled by the desire to get Kat to engage in normal teen behavior like parties and prom even though she usually limits her social circle to her best friend, Mandella. If she and the Booksmart girls were to meet, they would definitely understand each other!

Furthermore, Booksmart populates its character’s dialogue and background set pieces with famous women who smash the glass ceiling. It did my Women-And-Gender-Studies-Masters-Degree-Having-Heart a world of good to see young women on screen paying attention to feminism and feminist heroes. You know who else does that? Kat Stratford! She listens to Riot Grrrl music, hangs out in feminist bookstores, and taught 14-year-old me about the existence of The Feminine Mystique. It’s like she’s a little feminist mentor for the ladies of Booksmart! 

Do you have any other favorite teen movies starring smart, funny gals? Tweet to @onfrolic to shout out your faves! And if you haven’t yet, you should absolutely check out Booksmart!

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