Beanie Feldstein

Booksmart

06/05/19

It’s the day before they graduate from high school, and best friends Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein) are secure in the knowledge that they have achieved first class grades. They’ve managed this by working hard and staying well away from the kind of distractions that their less dedicated classmates have enjoyed to the full – parties, romances, drink and recreational drugs. Amy and Molly are the kind of students who spend their leisure time in the library and who can’t help correcting the grammar on the graffiti in the school toilets. They are – basically – swots.

So when Molly discovers that all her hard-partying classmates are also going to graduate with honours and will attend the finest universities in the land, she’s understandably dismayed. She vows that, tonight, she and Amy will attend the wildest party in town, that they will pursue the long-held romantic interests they have deliberately set aside, and  indulge in all the hedonistic pleasures they can lay their hands on.

In short, they will, for once in their lives, let their hair down and enjoy themselves. The only problem is, they don’t actually have the address where the party is being held…

Dever and Feldstein are terrific as the central couple and the witty script expertly kindles the laughs as the duo experience alarming setbacks in their quest to experience those forbidden pleasures. There are some genuinely heartwarming moments too, as the girls finally address the unspoken issues that lie at the heart of their mutual dependancy.

The real strength of Booksmart, however, lies in the way it cheerfully sets up a whole string of audience expectations, only to cleverly subvert them – from the school’s sardonic principal (Jason Sudeikis), who moonlights as a taxi driver, to the resident rich kid (Skyler Gisondo), reduced to trying to lure friends to his party by offering them free iPads.  Nothing here is ever quite what you expect and none of the characters are allowed to descend into cliché.

Directed by actor Olivia Wilde, Booksmart is a joyful little peach of a movie: sharp, clever and perceptive. It’s sure to make you laugh and you may even emerge from the cinema (as I did) with a lump in your throat. Enjoy!

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

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Lady Bird

16/02/18

Greta Gerwig is a fascinating woman. After seemingly stumbling into the film business via a series of zero budget, mumblecore efforts, she has quickly demonstrated that she is a force to be reckoned with. The semi-autobiographical Frances Ha, written by Gerwig and directed by Noah Baumbach, plays like early Woody Allen and Lady Bird feels very much like a prequel to that film, with Saoirse Ronan stepping up to the plate to play a teenage version of Gerwig. From the opening sequence where Christine “Lady Bird” McPherson argues with her mother, Marion (Laurie Metcalf), in a moving car – and then throws herself out of it rather than continue the conversation – we are left in no doubt that this is the story of a troublesome teen, who is likely to get her own way in the end.

Christine lives in Sacramento but longs to go to college in New York, where she believes ‘culture lives’. But it isn’t as easy as that. Her father, Larry (Tracy Letts), recently lost his job, her adopted step brother, Miguel (Jordan Rodrigues), seems in no hurry to get one ,and its pretty much left to Marion, a psychiatric nurse, to bring home the bacon. Little wonder the thought of paying for a place at an Ivy League University doesn’t figure highly on her agenda. She and Christine have a troubled relationship and it’s this, more than anything else, that lies at the heart of this powerful and beguiling film, which Gerwig has chosen to direct herself. Typically, she handles it with great aplomb, somehow managing to make the running time fly past and coaxing wonderful performances from everyone involved, especially from Ronan and Metcalf, who make a winning combination.

The story is often very funny (a scene where the a drama group is run by a physical exercise coach is a particular stand out), but it’s powerful enough to occasionally tug at the heartstrings too. I particularly like Beanie Feldstein as Christine’s best friend, Julie, and there’s also a nice cameo from Timothee Chalomet as one of Christine’s patently unsuitable boyfriends. Oscar nominations have been announced and, who knows, in the present climate, the establishment might finally be ready to reward another female director, and Lady Bird could well be a surprise winner.

Whatever the outcome, this is a sublime piece of film-making that never puts a foot wrong and demonstrates only too clearly that Greta Gerwig is a talent to be reckoned with.

5 stars

Philip Caveney