If you happen to have teenagers navigating the college admissions process, this may be a tense life chapter for you and for your kids. The demands of keeping track of ACT and SAT examinations, subject tests, AP exams, the common application, and the personal statement makes me wonder how on earth any high school seniors have time to focus on their classes. Let alone time to unwind and have fun.
Watching Book Smart with my daughter provided a flash of diversion and a welcome jolt of perspective. Directed by Olivia Wilde, the film was released to overlap with the 2019 graduation season, but it may be even more meaningful to stream it now, during the back-to-school rush and near the peak of intensity for the application process. The film’s dynamic duo, graduating seniors Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), learn some life lessons the day before they graduate that can inspire anyone navigating the college application process or trying to support a child or loved one on this journey.
Molly and Amy are best friends and partners in geek-hood. They converse in supportive affirmations and clever banter that props up their posture as serious students who have walked the rigorous academic walk, determined to achieve their shared dream of admission to an Ivy League university. Molly is a Yale bound valedictorian and Amy will be attending Columbia following a gap year in Botswana. Molly and Amy are so close and have their futures so meticulously mapped, that Amy has failed to share the news of her gap year, knowing that Molly will feel betrayed because they will therefore not graduate college at the same time. If they do not graduate on time, they cannot share an apartment together following graduation and continue to excel on their well-charted paths.
The revelation of Amy’s gap year is one of many jolting discoveries that unfold in unison with the chaos of graduation. Most significant is Molly’s discovery that many of her more carefree, festive classmates are also attending elite colleges. Discovering that students she assumed were lightweights and stoners are on a path as elite as hers causes an existential crisis. Molly convinces Amy that her dilemma can only be cured by fitting all of the fun of four years of high school into one crazy, party-crashing, raucous evening.
Wilde’s directorial debut is fun, kind, loving, insightful and hip. The cast of characters is lovable, relatable and compelling. On a psychological level, college is about separation, and Book Smart celebrates the beauty and meaning of this important, joyous milestone.