Olivia Wilde’s directorial debut, “Booksmart,” has received widespread critical acclaim ahead of its May 24 wide release, earning 98% positive reviews from critics on Rotten Tomatoes, a film and television review score aggregator. The film follows two high-achieving and ambitious students, Amy and Molly (Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein) during their last day of high school.
After spending all of high school with their focus set toward getting into good colleges, their priorities come into question after realizing that the students who partied also managed to achieve academic success. Coming to the conclusion that they spent too much time studying instead of having fun, the film centers on the pair’s ensuing antics as Amy and Molly attempt to make up for lost time.
The Hoya talked alongside other college publications to both Dever and Feldstein about working with Wilde, preparing for the film and how “Booksmart” reflected their own experiences.
What was it like working with Olivia Wilde, especially on her directorial debut?
Feldstein: It was heaven. She’s the smartest, most inclusive, collaborative, warm and just cool human being you’ll ever meet, and that’s the reason that this film is all of those things. She had such a beautiful, clear, brave vision for the film and so it was remarkable.
Dever: I always remember my first meeting with Olivia. It was such a clear understanding of what she wanted for this movie. The first thing she said to me was, “High school is war, and this movie is like ‘Training Day.’” Her ideas were just so insane. She had so many ideas when she came on to “Booksmart,” and I always put it there’s no one else who could’ve made this movie. Film’s a part of her DNA; she lives and breathes this movie. I think it’s all because she’s such an incredible person, she’s such an incredible director; she’s also a mom at the same time — she’s just a superhero. She really is.
How strongly did you resonate with your characters, and what was your high school experience like? Was it at all similar to your character’s?
Dever: I just loved how Amy sort of went through the world with a lot of kindness in her action. I really related to her family dynamic. I think my parents were a lot like her parents. I loved Amy. I loved the fact that I was going to play a girl whose sexuality wasn’t under a spotlight. That was really appealing to me. She also stands up for what she believes in, and her love for school is always inspiring to me.
In terms of my high school experience, I was more of an Amy the first two years of high school — really dedicated, really driven. I sort of turned into the character Hope, played by Diana Silvers, and now I’m back to being Amy. I feel like I’m a little bitchier now.
Feldstein: She’s an Amy. Well, in high school, I was definitely George [Noah Galvin] or Alan [Austin Crute]. I was deep in the theater crowd. I would’ve been anxious to get my character at the murder mystery party; those guys are so brilliant. I think in college, I was a Molly, which is interesting because you guys are writing for college papers.
I went to Wesleyan [University]. I really became obsessed with academics in college, but I didn’t feel that way constantly in high school. I sort of ebbed and flowed. In college, when I could choose my curriculum and my major, Wesleyan has an open curriculum, I was like, “Yes, this is what I want to do,” and was kind of intense about it like Molly, obsessed with grades and doing well because I enjoyed it, the same way they are.
They love academics. It’s not like they’re pushing themselves to be something they aren’t; they genuinely love it. I definitely was stubborn when I was younger, and Molly really digs those heels in and won’t let go, so I very much understood that.
You lived together while filming. Did that help in developing the relationship between your characters?
Dever: One hundred thousand percent. This movie relies on their bond and their chemistry and their deep, deep love for each other. We’ve spent the past 12 years with each other, so there’s no way we’d be able to reflect that unless we doubled down and lived together and spent 24/7 with each other, and we literally did that.
It was such an amazing experience. It was so funny; we realized today that we had pretty much agreed to live with each other for two months within fifteen minutes of meeting each other.
Feldstein: I think it was because we understood how integral that would be to the process and we had such an equal, intense passion for the material that we were like, “Anything we can do to bring them to life in the best way possible.”
Dever: You can only hope for that when you get hired to be a part of something. I know I had passion for it, but then to meet someone who had the same amount of passion?
Feldstein: It was a journey.
Dever: They’re sharing this journey, Amy and Molly, but we were also sharing it together. I could go on about it, it was religious.
Feldstein: Lots of pancakes.
Dever: We ate so many pancakes.
What do you hope viewers going through the transition to college can take away from this movie?
Dever: I feel like we want them to feel seen and to see others with open eyes.
Feldstein: Something I’m really passionate about and really referenced in the movie is that these girls have blinders on and think everything will be better and that everything relies on college. I think college is a beautiful part of your experience if that’s a step you take in your life; some people go and some people don’t go, but it’s not the best four years of your life.
I hate that narrative. I despise that narrative. It is a beautiful four years of your life, but how bummed would you be if you turn 22 and you’re like, “There I am, I’m over the hump?” I think that’s something that they do learn because they’re a bit younger, but they take the pressure off what college is.
I love the line my character has at the end of her valedictorian speech; I’m paraphrasing: “You guys are so wonderful; don’t let college eff it up.” “Don’t lose yourself to the expectations of what college should be” is how I see that line.
Because you guys are college newspapers, I was a tour guide at Wesleyan and would be like, “You need to understand that this is a decision in your life; this is not the decision of your life,” about where you go to college and what college is. I think it’s such a beautiful time, but think about being 22 and thinking this is it. I think that leads to a lot of pain.
Also, keep your friends close and they’ll stick around for life.