Anamnesis is the supposed feeling or recollection of a previous existence—something akin to evoking nostalgia, or something just as comforting or with that same sense of familiarity. Just, not your own. I couldn't think of a more appropriate descriptor (in this case, noun) to communicate what it's like to experience Booksmart. And I say that deliberately, as opposed to merely watching it, or idly existing in its presence.
Throughout this review, I'll mostly try to delve into that experience more, as opposed to what the film presented on the surface. But while we're already here, I can address that immediately.
What I can't do is, in any way, describe the premise of Booksmart in a way that would turn heads or leave someone awestruck. The film covers about a 48 hour timespan from the last day of school, until graduation the following day. Two high school friends who vowed to prioritize their studies over all else during their last four years attempt to make one final hail mary at reconciling their missed (or otherwise avoided) opportunities at what many would call a normal balance between socializing and education. In short, their goal is to attend a party that one of their more popular classmates is throwing on the eve of graduation. I probably could've started with that, but I'm here now, and I'm not deleting this paragraph.
While one could certainly make the argument that the film follows a very standard three-act structure, I'd argue that it's clearly (and more conveniently) just two. Think of it almost as, structurally, very reminiscent of 2007's Superbad. The main difference here being that Superbad was incredibly weighted towards the side of the journey, as opposed to the destination. Booksmart I feel is nearly a clean 50/50 split. Why am I talking about fractions, and why is this even noteworthy? Because nearly everything that the film presents (aside from one notable, hilarious outlier) arrives in two's. An example being if a character is introduced early on, you get a feel for their personality and motivations, and then see how that eventually drives them into taking whatever actions that they end up taking. Given that the supporting cast is fairly large, it's beyond commendable at how well the film juggles such a plethora of varying caricatures. Most every character with the exception of the two protagonists are only given two scenes, and are otherwise relegated to group or background inclusions. Yet their moments, interactions and energy resonate in a way that feels like their presence far exceeded that of their actual on-screen time. With nearly every character that appeared, I consistently found myself thinking 'I remember knowing someone exactly like that'. Whether it be due their emblematic exterior facades, or genuine emotions laying just beneath the surface, Booksmart presents colorful faces, temperaments, and personas in abundance.
The even split, or pairings, also apply to the wealth of emotions that any number of characters (and myself) end up experiencing. You'll run into instances of getting to know why a character cherishes something, only to see that prize shattered later on. An early annoyance may end up blossoming into something genuine and heartfelt. A one-dimensional character might otherwise capture your attention all the same as a multi-faceted one. Booksmart takes advantage many of the most common tropes and stereotypes within the coming-of-age genre, and uses them to smartly subvert expectations in ways that that come off just as joyous and smile-inducing as they are cathartic and somber.
I began the review with the word anamnesis. Why that word poignantly spoke to me and my experience with the film, is that I felt like I could name specific people that I've encountered throughout my high school days that were almost a 1:1 representation of what I saw on screen. And because of these memories, the short scenes that many of the supporting cast members shared a part of, suddenly made it feel like the memories ingrained in my life all decided to come flooding back. As I watched the film, it was as if my brain decided to overlay my own experiences atop what the film was showing me. Whenever the characters would act dumb and awkward, I felt my own awkwardness. When all the butterflies were pushed into their rosy cheeks upon meeting a crush, I felt myself sink into my own seat. And then when all the tension finally dissipated, I felt my body finally ease up.
In previous (recent) years, the coming-of-age genre of film has seen a good handful of near-perfect films including the likes of Ladybird, Eighth Grade, and The Edge of Seventeen. Although I love and enjoy those films, they all share the commonality of me viewing them almost like a third-party—as in you, the viewer, watching someone else's story unfold. (But isn't that what all movies are?) Booksmart wasn't at all that for me. It was like watching an anecdotal variation of my own story told. It felt as if my own words were being told back to me, but only at the end of a long game of telephone.
I walked in to the theater expecting a witty, raunchy high school comedy, but was instead given a self-reflection.
And I can't stop thinking about it.
1-2: Horrendous, wouldn’t recommend watching even if free of charge.
3-4: Potentially has some good ideas, but overall still lackluster.
5-6: Average, a decently good time; go see it if it's free.
7-8: A solid recommendation, and well-rounded film; warrants a purchase after home release.
9: No glaring flaws; deserves to be watched multiple times.
10: Masterful, must-see; filmmaking at its finest.