Booksmart: Pancakes Amidst Transition

*spoilers below*

The first moment Booksmart begins to give away the hands it’s playing and just how much it intends on entertaining, surprising, and delighting, occurs right at its opening frame as we see Molly (Beanie Feldstein) sitting upright and cross-legged in the middle of her room. Most times we are introduced to characters as they wake up, sure, we see them go through the daily steps that make up many of our own mornings, but that is not how we meet Molly Davidson.  We have arrived as she listens to an expletive-laden affirmational tape (Thanks to the voice work of Maya Rudolph) that starts with broad statements about the sacrifices made for greatness and mountains of success, meanwhile cutting to different objects in her room, various framed pictures of her heroes, awards, the valedictorian jacket that lies in front of her, right before this pump-up session begins to grow more mean-spirited. Here, we get to Molly’s foremost attitude towards her fellow high school classmates: F*** those losers. F*** them in their stupid f***ing faces. 

This is Molly Davidson, driven and ambitious, the president of her student government, more concerned with a smooth transition of power than senior year festivities, we now know who she models herself after, the mindset that’s gotten her through her high school career, but whose own worldview is poisoned by her contempt for her classmates, as a result. Our protagonist, her mission statement, and the central conflict, all laid out within the first 48 seconds of this 105-minute movie. How will someone who’s convinced her classmates should be f***ed in their f***ing faces widen her perception to see them as human beings?  And how will the daunting prospect of the transition out of high school help her reach that point? Booksmart chronicles how two friends, Molly and Amy, on the cusp of graduation the following day, come out of a night of Ayahuasca-fueled drug trips, self-discovery, and party after party, seeing the future that they spent their high school years working towards, their fellow graduates, and their friendship with an entirely fresh perspective. Regarding transition, Booksmart looks at it as an opportunity to reassess and grow, for Amy to take on a greater initiative and do things by her own terms before she goes off on her gap year to Botswana, for Molly to find value in the people around her that she maybe didn’t before and recognize the things she might’ve missed from the way she tackled high school, but also as a reminder of what they both already held dear, mainly their friendship.

Molly has a carefully calibrated, plan that spans several years for how to reach what she see as ultimate success: Getting into Yale University, which she has, editing law review at Georgetown University, clerking for a federal judge, before eventually becoming the youngest justice ever nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States. Molly wants to have it all, her ideal future more than anything, her desire for perfection from her perspective is her most powerful compass and that’s what sets Booksmart in motion. The moment where she finds three of her classmates, who mock her mercilessly in the bathroom, not aware she can hear all of their insults are headed to the same colleges she worked so hard to get into (or coding for Google), it’s not just a bombshell for Molly, the ethos that’s been her north star through the uncertainty of high school hallways has been disproven. She has lived so contently in her bubble, laser-focused on what lied beyond it, so she didn’t enjoy any of what high school had to offer besides as a pathway to better, bigger things or wonder how other people went through it. She’s spent years working towards her vision of the future and now that that future is at hand, she’s got a deadline to make her high school experience worthwhile in her eyes, a party at her vice president and, as yet to be revealed to her closest friend, crushes house representing a perfect opportunity “…to experience a seminal, fun anecdote…”. Along the way, though, through trial and error to reach that party, Molly’s mission changes. She goes from attempting to end high school with a flourish to trying to widen her understanding of her classmates. Her “F*** those losers” mentality has led her to view the people she’s gone to school with for years as competitors, stepping stones towards her true ambitions. Over the course of the night, the much-ridiculed Jared, who shows up to school with gift bags and stupid T-shirts for all to see and just might’ve had a prostitute at his 14th birthday, becomes a kid who uses his parent’s wealth to desperately try to buy people’s affection, sadly, the one thing he can’t seem to buy. Really, he just wants to get through high school and go design airplanes and produce musicals. Annabelle, who gets called “Triple A” by nearly all her classmates at school for sexual exploits the previous summer, resents her moniker deeply and looks forward to turning a new leaf at Yale the next year. Gigi, of course, Jared’s best friend, who provides the strawberries for Amy and Molly’s unplanned drug-induced nightmare, remains an enigma. We see through Molly’s valedictorian speech the next day that she’s gained a much deeper appreciation of the people she went to school with 4 years and it may have taken nearly that long for her to have her epiphany, but it’s a leap she had to make before her high school years came to close. Transition is what forces Molly Davidson to look inward and wonder if she could’ve things differently, but also to look inward towards her fellow high schoolers and not just try to understand them, but sit down and have a conversation, throwing her previous notions to the wind and showing as much admiration and humanity towards Jared or Annabelle, as she does Amy.

If we’re talking about Molly Davidson, we got to talk about her partner in crime, confidant, best friend, and her ride to school, Amy (Katelyn Dever), who shares her boundless passion for over-achieving. It’s their dedication to that success that’s drawn them together, but Amy doesn’t have the same ravenous appetite for what she sees as success, both in and out of school as Molly does. Molly is the force that gets them both out of the house the night before graduation when Amy would much rather stay home and watch The Dust Bowl, ignoring the opportunity to tell her crush, Ryan how she feels. Molly’s a pusher, but that’s just her set mode, which means she can overstep boundaries. On the other hand, Amy sometimes leans too much on Molly. She cowers at the idea of telling Molly about the gap year she’s taking to Botswana because she fears, reasonably, but still, how she’ll take the news. They’ve done everything together, freshman to senior year, so the idea of splitting apart for that long is understandably frightening. Molly doesn’t take the news well, even when Amy musters the courage to tell her, but it’s the strength of their bond that leads them to be excited about each other’s futures, even if thanks to transition, they’ll be pursuing theirs apart.

There’s a Wizard of Oz quality to Booksmart’s journey with the two main protagonists both gaining qualities in greater amounts by the end, at the point of the graduation ceremony where Amy and Molly burst through the fence in Jared’s car, Amy, fresh out of prison for a diversion she set up to distract the cops from the crowd of teens leaving a party, has gained courage and Molly has gained a heart. Booksmart ultimately frames transition as a daunting prospect, but a necessary change. Rarely is it convenient or easy, but it can build a greater understanding of others and a stronger sense of self and even in the upheaval of transition, we know that Molly and Amy’s friendship will survive.  As they arrive at the airport to go their separate ways and a solemn, downbeat song plays in the background, as tears roll down their faces, the song cuts off abruptly, Amy jumps in front of Molly’s car and hops in, ” I can be the last one on the plane… you wanna get pancakes?” Even as their paths diverge, they’ll still have time to have a laugh and grab some breakfast together.

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