Booksmart: A Love Letter to Female Friendship

Coined ‘the Disney Effect’, most people with any exposure to popular culture grow up being force-fed a social norm that says heterosexual courtship, romance and eventual marriage is the end goal.

Released in July 2019, Booksmart – alongside a smattering of other current popular culture pieces – is offering up the ‘new normal’ whereby that lonely void can be filled with whoever you like, so why not your best friend?

Romance, love, dating and sex are over-saturated in our cultures, religions, education and – perhaps the most influentially – our screens.

But were Ross and Rachel really as iconic as Rachel and Monica – and which relationship really offered Rachel the most?

Legitimising and examining female platonic friendships with the same artistic rigour, critical psyche and complexity as heterosexual romantic relationships allows a greater reflection of real life, rather than an idealised life.

Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut is a film that depicts cool and confident protagonists Amy and Molly at their last opportunity to show they are more than simply academic over-achievers and to partake in the ‘fun’ experiences of their peers.

Booksmart’s tongue-in-cheek humour, familiar ‘last year of high school’ setting, and compelling leads culminated to become an overnight success. But beyond this, its frank portrayal of the female friendship maintains a verisimilitude that is relatable but also inspiring.

Friendships aside, the film also humourously tackles the protagonists’ combined pride.

Although their outspoken feminism was a joyful addition and a huge pull for many audiences, it’s just as satisfying to see them overcome an internalised ‘not like the other girls’ mantra.

Booksmart relishes in the idea that being pretty and being smart are not mutually exclusive, and doesn’t punish its characters for being both.

Amy and Molly are each other’s emotional soul mates. Their banter and genuine care for each other mirrors many real-world platonic relationships between women.

By expanding our notions of ‘the one’ and ‘partner’, popular culture is beginning to reflect modern societal views. In this film, both characters have sexual and romantic interests in others while remaining emotionally invested in each other.

A driving force of such successful storytelling lies in the women behind these films. Booksmart’s screenplay was initially written by Emily Halpern and Sarah Haskins in 2009, before it was revised by Susanna Fogel in 2014, and finally by the film’s eventual screenwriter Katie Silberman in 2018.

This combined with Wilde’s considered direction grounds the film in real female experiences, and it shows.

Other 2019 pop culture offerings including Big Little Lies, Dead to Me, The Bold Type and Broad City also allowed female actors to access roles that – rather than capitalising on or sensationalising female friendship from a male gaze of cattiness, gossiping and changing in front of each other constantly – were rooted in the truth of the connections women share.

Through these we get the full breadth of the female experience, from genuine hang-outs to break-downs, each other’s family events, in-jokes, and up-front conversations about the darker and more confronting topics that only other women can understand.

When I took my best friend to see Booksmart it was rewarding to see a movie that was still funny, inappropriate and entertaining while simultaneously maintaining relatable and familiar context.

We weren’t distracted by the surrealism of a female friendship as if interpreted by aliens that learned it through watching sitcoms from the early 2000s. This ultimately allows more room to explore the intracacies of these relationships– from the gritty to the happy – and can only mean its onwards and upwards for female friendship in popular culture.

Hear Lucas Binns, Luke Saunders and Oliver Hales’ spoiler-free review of Booksmart in Episode 1 of the Double Feature podcast

Image by Emily Savage