BOOKSMART (2019) – Raunchy Teen Comedy Has Its Moments

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booksmart

BOOKSMART (2019), the new R-rated teen comedy by first-time director Olivia Wilde, has a lot of things going for it: a fun premise, sharp comedic and oftentimes poignant writing, a talented cast, and energetic direction.

But what it doesn’t have is a strong sense of realism. While I enjoyed most of BOOKSMART, I can’t say that I believed in much of it, which is too bad because parts of this movie have a lot to say.

With BOOKSMART, director Olivia Wilde takes the coming of age stories found in films like EIGHTH GRADE (2018) and THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN (2016) and turns them into a raunchy R-rated comedy. The good news is the film never deteriorates into mindless vulgarity, but the bad news is it never reaches the level of truth and sensitivity found in the aforementioned movies either.

In BOOKSMART, high school seniors Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) on the eve of graduation realize that their classmates who goofed around through high school still got into the colleges of their choice, and so they decide if their classmates can do both, that is party and still get into top colleges, then they can as well, and so they decide to party hearty for one big night just to say they did before they graduated high school.

The film follows their attempts to find the huge class party (since they weren’t invited) which leads to one mishap after another since they’re not very good at this sort of thing, but they’re determined, and do eventually make it to the party to end all parties where they hope to finally engage in the relationships they only thought about during their four years of high school.

BOOKSMART is lively and energetic from start to finish. At times, the girls’ mishaps on their quest to find the elusive party reminded me of the situations in the HANGOVER movies, although nothing here reaches the level of insane comedy found in that series, although this film certainly tries. Director Olivia Wilde lets everything fly, even including a hilarious scene featuring Amy and Molly as animated figures.

The screenplay by Susanna Fogel, Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, and Katie Silberman is very funny. The best part about the humor is it takes the usual drug and sex jokes and keeps them honest and prevents them from being cliché. Indeed, the humor works best when the situations are honest. For example, one of the funniest sequences involves Amy’s long-awaited and first sexual encounter with another girl.

The party scenes are also a cut above the usual mindless shenanigans of drunk teens. But not all the humor works, as some of the situations like when the girls try to hijack a pizza delivery driver to get the address of the party, simply aren’t taken far enough to be truly funny. Still, there are a decent number of laugh out loud moments.

BOOKSMART is a female driven movie to be sure, with its woman director, four women screenwriters, and predominantly female cast. As such, this film has a lot to say about young women and their relationships. Probably the deepest part of the story is Amy’s dealings with her sexuality. The discussions regarding gender and sexual preferences are spot on. The problem is the film doesn’t go there enough. These topics take a back seat to the raunchy comedic parts of the story.

The bigger culprit though is the believability factor. The bottom line here is most of the students in this film simply didn’t seem all that real to me. Sure, the story takes place in California, and the characters here are all from an affluent west coast neighborhood, but they certainly didn’t seem like they were living in the real world. And at the end of the day, this lack of realism works against the movie and what it’s trying to say about the life of high school students, especially female high school students, in 2019.

The cast was excellent. Both Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein stand out in the lead roles as Amy and Molly. These two did seem like real people, and I enjoyed watching this story about the two of them and their lifelong friendship. Dever has already had some notable roles in films like DETROIT (2017), THE FRONT RUNNER (2018), and BEAUTIFUL BOY (2018). Her role here only adds to her impressive resume.

Beanie Feldstein impressed in LADY BIRD (2017), playing lead character Lady Bird’s best friend Julie.

Other notable performances in the young cast include Victoria Ruesga as Ryan, Mason Gooding as Nick, Skyler Gisondo as Jared, Diana Silvers as Hope, Molly Gordon as Triple A, Eduardo Franco as Theo, Austin Crute as Alan, and Noah Galvin as George. All these actors have key moments in the movie, and they’re all very good.

The cast also includes veteran actors Will Forte and Lisa Kudrow, as well as Jason Sudeikis as the school principal.

While BOOKSMART is certainly funny, it never reaches the level of all-out hilarity it needed to be really memorable. Likewise, while its script and story do possess moments of sensitivity and insight into the teenage condition in 2019, these moments are sporadic at best. And while the dialogue is realistic and raw, unfiltered to a fault, the situations the two leads find themselves in are more often ludicrous than real. As such, while I had fun with BOOKSMART, I can’t say I believed most of it, which works against the stronger thematic elements of this comedy.

I liked BOOKSMART, but had it been a tad smarter, I would have loved it.

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CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (2014)

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Horrible Bosses 2 - poster

Here’s my CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review of HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (2014) which went live this past weekend at cinemaknifefight.com, your home for nonstop movie content posted nearly every day.

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT:  HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (2014)

Movie Review by Michael Arruda

(THE SCENE: A dentist’s office.  MICHAEL ARRUDA sits in the dental chair, as a beautiful female dentist approaches him with a seductive walk.)

DENTIST BABE (in a sultry voice):  I’m going to blow— your mind.

MICHAEL ARRUDA (smiles dreamily at the camera):  The things I do for this column.

DENTIST BABE:  And after that I’ll stroke— your ego.

MA:  My ego is looking forward to it.  But first I have a movie to review.

DENTIST BABE:  Review the movie later.

MA:  I wish I could, but a movie reviewer’s job is never done.  We’ll finish this conversation later.

DENTIST BABE:  We’ll do more than that. (Whispers in MA’s ear.)

MA:  Wow.  I think my deductible just went up.

Welcome everyone to another edition of CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT.  I’m flying solo tonight as L.L. Soares is off on another assignment.

Tonight’s movie is HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 (2014), the inevitable sequel to HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011), a film I liked a lot, but seriously, did it really need a sequel?  I don’t think so.

Jason Bateman, Charlie Day, and Jason Sudekis are back once again as three hapless friends who once more find themselves on the wrong side of an inept crime attempt, only this time it’s not murder but a harebrained kidnapping scheme.

The film opens with Nick (Jason Bateman), Dale (Charlie Day), and Kurt (Jason Sudekis) trying to make it in the business world on their own.  Since they had such horrible bosses in the first movie, they’ve decided to start their own business and be their own bosses.  Their idea is the “Shower Buddy” a type of shower head that not only sprays water but shampoo as well, an idea they modeled after the contraptions used in car washes.

They’re approached by businessman Bert Hanson (Christoph Waltz) and his son Rex (Chris Pine) who agree to finance their “Shower Buddy” venture.  But when Bert and Rex double cross Nick, Dale, and Kurt, and steal their business idea from them, the three buddies decide to fight back.  Realizing that their attempts at murder didn’t work out very well last time, they decide this time to try their hand at kidnapping.

They plan to kidnap Rex and force his father Bert to pay a huge ransom for his return, and to this end they turn to their old friend MF Jones (Jamie Foxx) for advice.  As you would imagine, things don’t go as planned, and Nick, Dale, and Kurt spend the rest of the movie getting into one bind after another.  The harder they try to make their plot work, the worse things get for them.

One of the best things about the first HORRIBLE BOSSES was that it had a fun story that made sense.  Three guys, each with a horrible boss, decide to take a page out of Hitchcock’s STRANGERS ON A TRAIN (1951) and murder each other’s bosses.  It had a proven gimmick, and it was funny.

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2, however, doesn’t have this gimmick.  The idea that these three guys would try to kidnap someone after they failed so miserably at their attempts at crime in the first film makes little sense.  I didn’t believe the plot in this one for a second.

DENTIST BABE:  But it’s a silly comedy.  Why do you care about the plot?

MA:  Well, it’s not so much about caring about the plot.  It’s more a matter of having the story make sense so the film plays out like a comic story rather than just a series of random jokes by three funny guys.

DENTIST BABE:  I don’t see what the big deal is.  Speaking of big, you’ve got the biggest- smile.

MA:  Gee, thanks.

Anyway, getting back to the review, the story in HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 is secondary.  It’s goofy and implausible, and so while there are plenty of funny parts in this movie, it’s never as fun as its predecessor, which in spite of its over-the-top humor did have a solid story.

HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 definitely plays out like a sequel.  It’s got the same characters from the first film back again for another go at crime, only this time it’s all rather unnecessary.  Give me a better more plausible story and I like this movie much more.  It also scores high on the raunchy meter, at least in terms of language, but this doesn’t always translate into laughs, and it doesn’t here.

DENTIST BABE:  Raunchy?  That sounds like my type of movie.

MA:  Yes, you probably would like this one more than me, no doubt, but then again, my reasons for not loving it have little to do with it being raunchy.  I just wanted it to be funnier.

DENIST BABE:  I like raunchy.  (Again, whispers in MA’s ear.)

MA:  Enough of that.  I need a clear mind until I finish this review.  Okay?  Clear!

DENTIST BABE:  Clear, as in this.  (With her back to the camera, she opens her white dentist coat and flashes MA.)

MA (looks at camera): What movie am I reviewing again?

DENTIST BABE:  HORRIBLE BOSSES 2.

MA:  Yes, of course.

DENTIST BABE:  Are you done yet?

MA:  Not the words I want to hear from a woman.  But, I am almost finished with the review.  Onward!

Jason Bateman as Nick is the one guy with a head on his shoulders.  He spends the movie telling his friends Dale and Kurt what idiots they are and how bad their ideas are, and of course they don’t listen to him.  Bateman’s pretty much the straight man throughout, and he’s much more enjoyable here than he was in last year’s BAD WORDS (2013).

Jason Sudekis as Kurt and Charlie Day as Dale play equally inept buffoons, and seriously, I don’t remember them being as completely clueless in the last movie as they are in this one.  Sometimes they were a little too idiotic and did things that were so stupid they weren’t really funny.  In one scene their plan for breaking into a home was contingent on the door being unlocked.  Seriously?  Still, Sudekis and Day are both pretty funny, and they get most of the laughs in the movie, but I enjoyed them both more in the first film than in this one.

Chris Pine has a field day playing the wildly unpredictable Rex Hanson, and while it was fun to watch Pine ham it up, unfortunately the character really wasn’t all that funny.  Christoph Waltz as Rex’s father Bert plays the heavy here, but it’s a do-nothing standard villain role for Waltz, a role way beneath Waltz’s acting abilities.

Jamie Foxx gets a decent share of laughs in his reprisal of the character MF Jones from the first movie, but it’s a shtick we’ve seen before and in this movie it’s nothing new.  Incidentally, this film reunites Foxx for the first time with his co-star Christoph Waltz from DJANGO UNCHAINED (2012) although they don’t share any scenes in this one, and that’s too bad.  It might have been fun to have a little in-joke featuring the two of them, but this movie isn’t that clever.

Speaking of rehashing things from the first movie, both Jennifer Aniston and Kevin Spacey return, as they also reprise their roles from the first movie.  Aniston fares better than Spacey, who pretty much just has a glorified cameo.  Had the writers actually decided to give Spacey’s character something to do it would have made things interesting.  Aniston returns as her sex-addicted dentist Dr. Julia Harris, and she gets a couple of amusing scenes, but they’re not as good as her scenes in the first film.

DENTIST BABE:  She sounds like someone I know.

MA:  Doesn’t she?

And for fans of TV’s BREAKING BAD, Jonathan Banks, who played Mike on BREAKING BAD shows up here in a thankless role as a hard-nosed police detective.  Banks gets to go around spouting tough guy lines in a role that’s ultimately not very important, but it was still fun to watch him do his thing.

HORRIBLE BOSSESS 2 was written and directed by Sean Anders, who just wrote DUMB AND DUMBER TO (2014), as well as WE’RE THE MILLERS (2013), and HOT TUB TIME MACHINE (2010).  I enjoyed last year’s WE’RE THE MILLERS more than HORRIBLE BOSSES 2.

Admittedly, some of the jokes are pretty funny, like when Nick finds himself at a sexual addiction support group and thinks he’s at an AA meeting, but there are also plenty of misfires.

I wish the film had shown more creativity and imagination.  For example, there’s a sequence where Nick, Kurt, and Dale are interviewing for their company and they keep hiring unqualified beautiful women, and it’s a funny scene, but it’s also a sequence that misses the chance to do something more.  It would have been fun to see Nick, Kurt, and Dale attempt to be bosses, and I hoped there would be some scenes where we’d see them interact as bosses with the characters they hired, but the film doesn’t go in this direction.

I laughed here and there, but overall, HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 is like so many other movie sequels.  It’s okay, but ultimately it’s nothing more than a rehash of the first film, only not as good.

I give HORRIBLE BOSSES 2 a mediocre two knives.

Okay, now that I’m done with the review, I can turn my attention to— where did she go?  Hello?  Did she leave?  (Finds note and reads it.)  “Come into the X-ray room.”  Hmm.  Okay.  I guess I need some x-rays.

Well, folks, that wraps things up here, and I’ll see you again next week with a review of another new movie.

(Opens door to the x-ray room)  Hello?  I’m here for my x-ray.

DENTIST BABE VOICE FROM INSIDE ROOM:  You mean xxx-ray.

MA:  I’m not sure my policy covers three x-rays.  (Looks at camera)  Well, that is what we’re talking about, after all, isn’t it?   (smirks).

(Enters the x-ray room and closes the door behind him.)

—END—