Autumn Faust’s review published on Letterboxd:
The definitive liberal gen x vision of gen z. While boomers are disgusted with the youth, gen x has more of an affinity for at least "sanctioned rebellion". Having witnessed white men's coalescence into an oppressed group during the AIDS crisis, a defining "voice of the generation" in Kurt Cobain, Gen X likes to think it's in touch with its inner activist/child, which it patronizingly conflates. Thus we get Booksmart, a clusterfuck collision of the worst trends in both comedy and ambient media politics.
The primary problem with Booksmart is actually less its grating liberalism and more its Apatow school improv dominant comedic approach. Improv functions to "relate" someone to the situation, removing the brechtian conceit of artistic mounting, obfuscation and drama. Funny improv would probably be funny if you really were living it, just in a room with your funny friend. But films are art. They speak to you as such, not just as casual conversation. Thus effective comedy in a film context should speak via film language. This does not only include clever editing and framing, but actually written jokes and directed performance. Otherwise it's like you're listening to what someone is trying to tell you through a filter, the comedy that the (obnoxious seeming) filmmakers probably laughed at on set muffled. I don't know why almost anything in this is supposed to be funny, if it's merely trying and failing to charm. Overall I feel tonal manipulation has been fundamentally failed.
...Failed not just by a less than optimal exploitation of film language, but by liberal self censorship. The improv here actually is edited with a little more juice than a typical languid Apatow film but at least his films weren't afraid to include a misogynist character or two. Permit me to say fuck subtweeting and break all the annoying political shit in this:
Lesbian porn, which is made for men, is suggested to be educational, TO TEENAGE GIRLS no less. The predominance of trafficking victims in porn is even mentioned, but then brushed aside with "some peoples' sexual preferences". I talk a lot about how trans ideology is warping our understanding of the fundamentals of sex and the dangers of that when we remain under patriarchy, but GAY ideology, where even MEN'S, HETEROSEXUAL desire is so important as to be a sufficient rebuttal to "trafficked women" has truly done as much damage to the western liberal feminist sense of ethics.
A typical high school movie bathroom "gossip is overheard in a stall" scene occurs in a gender neutral restroom which is super uncomfortable but goes unremarked upon because that's the suggestion that the filmmakers want to create: that there's nothing unusual about this. Responding to the times means not questioning anything, listening to The Kids, giving them voice via an Annapurna film. We don't even have any trans characters but these "cis" kids have gotten used to it, why can't You? But maybe since this film seems to exist in The World Liberal's Want, the men aren't really sexual threats anymore. Women no longer need their own spaces. Sex is erased. And to suggest anything is even unusual, to Joke, is Literal Nazism.
The gay kids in this are incredibly annoying but the film refuses to confirm for me that they are out of fear of offense. Like i can't believe my own ears when they speak out some niche subcultural garble because no one in the film seems to react naturally to it. There is no comedy to be found with them, since we can't even come CLOSE to insulting LGBT, unless you are a Gen Xer who fetishizes gay people, and even then you would only be charmed. No conflict is made of their homosexuality, its signifiers, or anything. They're aesthetic ciphers. They're just so inhuman it hardly matters. I suppose Kaitlyn Dever's lesbian character behaves normally, but remains fetishized by her best friend, her parents, and the film even as it grants her basic normalcy. Of course normalcy vs freakishness or even character itself is a major problem with the film, as it positions liberal feminist sloganeering as normal but also tries to qualify it as character whenever it's forgotten that our leads aren't actually sufficiently different enough to a baseline hypothetical viewer to be anything but identification devices. The characters to whom the film is emotionally attuned are dull at their core while the characters who are the marginal freaks are given insufficient emotional attention to parse them at all.
Beanie Feldstein is called a "butter-personality" as if she's hot? No one even mentions that she's fat. I don't need them to because I necessarily WANT someone like her to be denigrated on that basis, I need it to because that's a realistic portrayal of high school even in 2019. Even the bullies are too woke to comment on a body! It's a realistic part of the character's psychology stripped away for a focus on an unrealistic one (being denigrated for being studious? like it's the 80s??). Her personality is hardly something believably hated by the kinds of characters in this film, a bunch of inscrutable but wholesome weirdos who when taken collectively seem to espouse or suggest value in nothing else but that as a virtue in and of itself. No side character in this is given any kind of emotional texture. Gay boys are catty catty for "color" for contemporary GBF minstrelry, "Gigi" is...on drugs I guess?, Beanie Feldstein develops a crush on one annoying nerd because he said he likes airplanes and that constitutes a deep undiscovered personality I guess. This prevailing lack of personality, with politics, academics, partying, stereotypical shucking and jiving and a hobby like Airplanes as a substitute for pretty much all our characters, is the other true problem with a film already relying solely on their presences rather than obtruding with one of its own. Once the film actually needs to get in emotional gear, it steals a scene and a song right out of Eighth Grade. Right after, it contrives an argument. It can't do anything right.
Essentially, the film thinks it can avoid being preachy by being tonally inert when discussing its politics, by flattening its characters past the point of emotional stakes. Which ultimately turns everything they do into an "inadvertant advertisement". A work where ideology, or more accurately a fear of transgressing a predominant "youth ideology", is clearly the guiding force behind most of the artistic decisions, but that still attempts to pretend it has no agenda by sacrificing art. Honestly more boring than it is annoying as a result, but it's still both in spades. Propaganda via pablum. Maybe has value as like a nightmare vision of a soulless liberal world, but too dull even to really satisfy that.
It's, dare I say, Too Gay To Function.