Part of the magic of Siskel and Ebert, was that Ebert judged movies for their intended audience. Siskel would quip “Parents will be bored to death by this movie” before Ebert would point out that the movie is made to entertain toddlers. Thus Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs is held to a different standard than The King’s Speech, despite employing the same thumbs up / thumbs down rating system. There are plenty of movies that are admittedly not made for me. The Fast and The Furious? No thanks. Brooklyn? Turned it off after fifteen minutes. I don’t bother critiquing them beyond admitting I didn’t watch. I generally try to keep my expectations for movies non-existent, so I’m either pleasantly surprised or totally apathetic.
My main gripe about movies in their current form, beyond the fact that most of them are unwatchable marketing vehicles, is that they aren’t about story at all, and are entirely judged on messaging and virtue signaling. I don’t care what John McClane’s character represents about masculinity in an intersectionalist context. It only matters to me that his actions serve the plot and his character develops somewhat over 100 minutes. There is a legitimate argument about representation to be made, but it is a larger symptom of casting and the financial risk of sinking millions of dollars behind a name no one recognizes. The worst way to combat this problem in my opinion, is to double down on the franchise model and make racial or gender specific versions of movies that already exist. Do we need an all women version of Ocean’s 11? Why does it need to exist in the same universe, no one doubts that women can be sophisticated criminals. If one changed three names in Ocean’s 8 it could exist instead on its own merit. Ghostbusters might be a little tougher, but it could still be it’s own movie if it wanted to be.
I had no desire to see Booksmart. The previews boasted a half-assed Apatow modern comedy, with lots of gratuitous, slow-motion party shots. When I read a glowing review, four stars on Ebert’s own website, I thought maybe it would be worth checking out. I could barely find a seat in DC, every theater was almost completely sold out this weekend. It felt like a sign. As it turns out the movie is Superbad!, recast with female characters, but instead of aspiring towards modern classic, it hits somewhere near Neighbors 2: Sorority Uprising. Another unnecessary, female-skewed remake.
Booksmart has no heart. It’s two Gilmore Girls spin off characters spitting witty dialogue at lightning speed trying to get to a party. I hesitate to call them characters, because all we really know about them is that they are nerds. They have no redeeming qualities beyond their grades. The other kids at school are mean to them because they don’t party. One of them is a lesbian, though its the sidekick because making the main character gay would be perhaps too intersectional? Her strict, religious parents are totally cool with it for some reason, leading to no conflict whatsoever. The other kids at the school don’t seem to give her any trouble either, so it has no real impact on the story other than being a mundane detail. The main character is overweight and conventionally unattractive, though no one in the movie criticizes her appearance in the slightest. Despite these traits which could lead to some interesting character development, it is not mentioned to signal that people should more accepting of others. What a wonderful lesson.
The characters are let off easy. This has the effect of making them less likable because we don’t see them overcome their situation and be real people. Instead we are supposed to like these girls because the sidekick is spending her gap year before college “making tampons in Botswana”. While that’s a funny scenario in premise, it doesn’t serve the story other than to completely rehash the conflict from Superbad! where Seth finds out Evan will not be rooming with him next year. At one point, the girls are dosed with “Asian iowaska” (whatever that is) and the trip lasts about 40 seconds. God forbid something actually happen to these two precious angels.
It’s really impossible to not compare this movie to Superbad! But where Superbad! is a spiral notebook overflowing with imaginative, phallic art, Booksmart is but a crude, stickman’s dick. It doesn’t share the heart of Lady Bird, and it offers the audience nothing new. The adult presence in the movie is largely pointless, and I stand by my opinion that Jason Sudeikis is the least talented comedic actor of our time. The most infuriating review I found for this movie states that director Olivia Wilde “is not the next Judd Apatow or John Hughes, but the first Olivia Wilde”. Which if it were true, the reviewer wouldn’t have had to mention two men in the same sentence.