K. Austin Collins’s review published on Letterboxd:
Good acting. But.
If you’re a student at the kind of high school from which kids regularly graduate to attend Stanford and Harvard and Georgetown and Yale and even get recruited to bypass the whole college scam and start working at Google immediately, and if these other kids manage to find ways to be social and deviant while doing the work it takes to get into those schools, are you really going to think you have to sacrifice being social to accomplish the same? And since you go to a school that has so many kids getting into elite colleges that they’re forbidden from even talking about it, chances are you have a pretty realistic sense of what it takes and what it doesn’t, because you’re privileged, and privileged kids act on that privilege. So do their parents.
So if you are making that social sacrifice, it’s probably because you’re high strung — not necessarily because you’re outcast-adjacent, not even because of your identity, but because you’re a Type A lunatic teenager. Which means you’d be a great character in a movie!
I think Booksmart would be a better movie if it understood this. Because as it stands, the premise results in a movie that suggests the creators don’t understand their own characters — and also that they are completely washed and projecting onto teenagers. They want to have it both ways. They want to make a movie about the rushed climax of lives that had, until then, been unfulfilled because of the demands we place on ambitious young women — they want to ask, Atlantic Monthly style, if teen girls can really have it all.
But they also want to give us two teen girls who are way too brainy, weird, adventurous, and complicated to have sincerely fallen into the traps of missed opportunity the movie lays out for them. I just never really bought that these two young women would think they had to deny themselves pleasure for 4 years of high school to live fulfilling lives afterward, given that no one else around them, not even women, seems to feel that way. The movie makes this seem like they were somehow merely in the dark, but it doesn’t have any interesting discoveries to offer in terms of why that might be, or how that might really come to define their personalities. What if they’re actually just ... snobs? ... who think they’re too good to hang out with the other Yale hopefuls? Certainly that bathroom / college reveal conversation, Beanie’s shock at the accomplishments of the kids she was too busy being a dismissive nerd to hang out with, suggests as much.
The movie falls back on the formulas of graduation movies and the resultingly bittersweet end of adolescence because exploring the implications of its heroines’ personalities would prove less catchy, too complicated. It mostly takes the easy way out; a couple late conversations do, thankfully, make the sense of sitting out the fun parts of high school seem regrettable. Even then, I dunno — that wistfulness still feels engineered by the movie itself, not the circumstances of these young people as represented here. The movie can’t seem to imagine a need for feminism without a tinge of missed opportunity. That’s how you know that the filmmakers don’t really have an original or rigorous sense of what feminism can offer even young women of enviable privilege — like its heroines. Instead, it labors to deny them an explicit sense of that privilege, because the endgame is to take credit for giving it back.