Honestly, “pushy” is a compliment. You know who else was pushy? Diane Sawyer, Joan of Arc, Queen Noor of Jordan.
I KNOW where Queen Noor is from.
I first encountered Kaitlyn Dever in a wonderful little indie film called Short Term 12 where she blew me away with the sensitivity and unsentimentality of her supporting performance as a troubled teen; of some note, Short Term 12 also featured strong supporting performances from a couple of then unknowns named Lakeith Stanfield and Rami Malek. Really good casting director on that movie. Beanie Feldstein I absolutely fell in love with in Lady Bird where she shares the screen with Saorsie Ronan and Laurie Metcalf at their respective career bests and still managed to walk off with just about every scene she was in. So I was intrigued when the two of them got together to headline a high school comedy that would, also intriguingly, be the feature directorial debut of Olivia Wilde. And the two of them are great. They have an easy, natural chemistry and it is their wacky relationship that really drives this movie to its greatest heights. I fear some backlash against the movie from people who have seen the critical love for the film and might be expecting it to kind of reinvent the wheel or be a kind of “revisionist” teen comedy. What they’ll find is a pretty standard genre entry in terms of structure, tone, comedic voice, etc. It’s just elevated by being a bit more interested in character and more smartly written than most. In some ways, this is one of the best things about the movie; it wears its inclusivness lightly. The fact that a movie like this has, for instance, a lesbian as one of its two main characters is pretty incredible, but the movie doesn’t act like it is or make a huge deal out of how cool and “representative” it is. It just makes her a real character that you end up caring about by the end of the film. On the other hand, the movie’s adherence to the genre tropes is a bit clumsy sometimes. There are jokes here that don’t land for sure and the plot, such as it is, is pretty clunky. But the film really just skates by on a mostly effortless charisma and a winning sense of humor and character.
The entire cast is pretty great, even when they’re playing more or less stock characters; the movie takes the time to give some of them just a bit more depth than they’d get in a dumber version of this story and that’s appreciated, but the movie is also unapologetic about them being stock characters, archetypes in a way. Of the supporting cast, Billie Lourd is of special note, stealing every scene she’s in as the drugged up party girl of the movie. Jessica Williams of The Daily Show is also particularly good as a sarcastic teacher; the character unfolds over the course of the movie in some really hilarious ways and Williams has a moment near the end of the film (involving a case of mistaken identity) that wasn’t just my personal biggest laugh in this movie, but maybe also the biggest laugh I’ve had in a movie theater this year. I’ve seen some people saying that this movie isn’t funny; well, comedy is incredibly subjective and I can see how the style and voice of this movie might not work for some people. Wilde is certainly too reliant on using songs to sell a scene or a joke, though this is definitely a standard trope of the genre. But I laughed a lot during this movie and, in spite of all the hijinks, I also really found myself buying in on the two main characters and caring about them. By the end of the movie, I found myself laughing and crying at the same time, just caught up in that final scene, even as I knew where it was going and what was going to happen at the end of it. Maybe that’s the final summation of this film: it goes down very familiar paths, but the smartness of the writing and the performances make the emotions hit home anyway. So, it has flaws, but they’re not crippling and the central relationship between Dever & Feldstein never feels less than absolutely real and charming. This is a wonderful movie and I can’t quibble with the strength of my emotional reaction. 4 stars.
tl;dr – flawed, overly predictable film still has sharp writing, great performances & a compelling, wonderful central relationship; funny & heartfelt without being precious or cheesy. 4 stars.