Shining Light on Female Struggles in Society in Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart

Paper by Kampton Carter.

Directed by Olivia Wilde, Booksmart is a 2019 teen comedy and coming-of-age film which addresses the many difficulties women and teenage girls experience throughout their lives, such as the struggles of feeling seen and being respected. While Olivia Wilde has had experience in the entertainment industry as an actress and producer, Booksmart is her directorial debut feature film (IMDb). Following a classical Hollywood narrative form, Booksmart captures an audience by including and representing all ages, genders, and races – but most of all, by defining the current generation of women and teenage girls (Guerrasio). With 57 nominations and 23 awards (IMDb), Booksmart’s target demographic was women under the age of 25. According to Anthony D’Alessandro, Olivia Wilde stated in an interview with Deadline in regards to this demographic:

“It’s fascinating to me, because they are such a discerning demographic, and they have so many options and they don’t want to be underestimated and patronized. I feel that what we were able to tap into was the intelligence of this demographic, who felt like they wanted to see a story about their lives. They wanted to feel represented onscreen but no longer put in a box of a superficial obsession with boys, or assimilation to pop culture.”

Directed by a female, Booksmart offers a candid look at major cultural topics such as feminism and the struggle of the LGBTQ+ group. A line in the film, “We’re not one-dimensional,” goes to show that women and teenage girls can be more than one thing. Not just smart with bug-eyed nerd glasses and unattractive hair, or pretty but lacking in intelligence and self-awareness, but instead women and girls have so many positive yet contradicting qualities that the world refuses to acknowledge (Highfill). This film follows the journey of academic overachieving best friends Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) and Molly (Beanie Feldstein), two teenage girls who believe they did everything right in high school since they were accepted into prestigious universities. Once Molly goes ballistic after learning their party-loving peers also were accepted into private colleges, they begin a journey to prove they were fun in high school, the deadline being 24 hours before graduation. Each delay they faced in trying to get to Nick’s (Mason Gooding) party might have seemed minor; however, each one was truly symbolic and changed their perspectives for the better. Over the course of the 24 hours, Amy finds herself as an individual and learns how to let go, which is a struggle for teens nowadays. Molly, on the other hand, breaks down her big ego that kept her from seeing others and learns how to see everyone as equals and open up about herself. While it may seem like another teen movie that simply consists of flat characters that find their footing by the end of the film, it subtly addresses many controversial themes regarding women and girls in society’s eyes and the struggle for equality and respect – even amongst themselves.

The scene I selected to analyze is in the third act, where Molly and Amy drive from the police department and arrive at graduation. This scene’s use of editing, symbolism, repetition, and cinematography supports the many themes found throughout this film, including those of empowering women and girls, breaking down barriers of isolation, and feeling seen and heard. This scene can easily be related to just about any other scene in this film since each holds an incredible amount of symbolism about feminism and gender equality. This major turning point here towards the end of the film shows that women and teenage girls can act as crazy as anyone else but still be who they want to be and still feel accepted by a society that doesn’t focus on a single defining label. Not only does this scene convey important themes through the form and style of Amy’s and Molly’s achievement of their personal as well as public goals, but the editing, repetition, and mise-en-scene makes the scene visually and emotionally pleasing to the audience.

This scene opens with fast paced action right away, where Jared’s car is being driven down a street very recklessly by Amy and Molly. Shots alternate between Molly, Amy and the outside of the car to show their being terrified of dying in a terrible accident during their last leg of teenage stupidity and rebellion. Parallel editing is used to show what is happening between the supporting characters at graduation and Molly and Amy on the road. Shots alternate between these two places until unity is finally achieved, when they arrive at graduation. Jared begins to deliver Molly’s speech for her, until she arrives to interrupt him. Her original speech was very egotistical as she acted high and mighty in the beginning of the film when it was written. There is a lot of symbolism behind her interrupting her own speech and starting one from the heart that is directed at her peers since she now saw them as just they finally saw her too. The mise-en-scene, cinematography, and editing do a fine job in showing the newly kindled relationships between classmates with eye line match shots, the drama of the moment through saturated colors and lighting, and the build of suspense with slower paced shots and awkward dialogue.
This succession of shots that comprises this scene is extremely important because it shows the characters growing, being and feeling accepted, and breaking the gender norms that have existed for so long. Parallel editing is used so the audience sees both what is happening at graduation and while the duo are on their way. The first series of shots of Molly and Amy driving Jared’s car differs from what you would ever expect to see in a film based around two smart girls. The license plate in itself conveys a lot of irony as it says “FUK BOI,” yet two teenage girls take control and show power over this disrespectful term to women, plus they also drive to graduation like amateur sports car drivers, a male dominated field. The fire decals on the car and the burning rubber on the tires also convey some irony and symbolism of almost “teenage burnout” before graduation. This could also be interpreted as being teenagers for the last time. The colors seem a little saturated, especially in their blue graduation cap and gowns, probably to make the viewer more captured by the events taken on screen. Though sheer terror is shown in the medium shots of them inside the car, the slowed motion and nondiegetic music that mutes their screams contributes to a realistic feel the audience can enjoy until the next series of shots. This next series of shot uses a lot of eye line match cuts to show a conversation between Principal Brown (Jason Sudeikis) and Jared (Skyler Gisondo) as he tries to convince him that Molly tapped him to start her speech. Though the shots are short, Jared slows down the action with his long stuttering lines as he speaks to Brown. Comically, he wears a baseball cap underneath his graduation cap and a thick chain necklace, which both does and doesn’t correlate with his personality. Invisible continuity is kept in this series of shots as the 180 degree rule of film allows the audience to gain perspective on this part of the scene. As Jared walks up on stage, a new shot of his peers cheering him to the stage establishes a repetition of shots, as well as invokes a heartwarming feeling in the audience as Jared now realizes he feels like he is seen by his classmates. Shots now alternate between giving the viewer a look at the entire scene and shots of his peers reacting to him speaking. A medium shot taken from behind Jared shows the power he has in the moment as everyone has their organized attention directed at him. Though it is not a low angle shot, his peers are lower than him. He reads Molly’s speech for as it is, establishing his humor and the crowd loving him for who he is now that they have an opportunity to actually see him. A shot of Gigi at the piano gives the audience more perspective into the scene, all the while adding to her loving whimsical character through her clothes and dramatized actions. There is a lot of meaning and symbolism conveyed in this single shot alone. This type of character is rarely seen onscreen, much less in a comedic form. The audience knows she is an intelligent individual as she was accepted into Harvard, but these characterizations give her so many more qualities that an objectified woman wouldn’t be allowed to have onscreen. This makes her character all the more lovable by the general audience as it also impacts women and teenage girls by encouraging them to be free and act how they want because society should love them for it too. The next series of shots begins after Jared starts Molly’s speech. It returns to the duo speeding down the street, shots alternating between outside the car, Molly, and Amy once more – following repetition it established within the first series of shots. Again, slow motion is used when focusing on shots of the girls.

The next series of shots takes place at graduation once more. The long shadows cast on the ground create a feeling of time passing by, and the speech begins turning into an uncomfortable thing to sit through as it becomes more derogatory and egotistical – as Molly used to be. The shot before the unity is created is an extreme long shot of Jared at the podium. His voice trails off as the speech becomes inappropriate, and there is nothing heard but the painful echo of Molly’s speech. Shots have alternated between Jared and the crowd, showing their less enthusiastic reactions, begging the screen for a change of scenery. Now that unity has finally been achieved, shots alternate between the car kicking up a dust storm and the class, as well as Jared reacting to his trashed car – however it seems to be in good shape besides the gate being stuck on the front. This moment is very symbolic as it allows Molly to interrupt her past-self speaking and turn it into a heartfelt moment where she lifts Amy up to be acknowledged before her. The specific shot where the camera focuses on Molly’s and Amy’s backs onstage is one of the most important shots in this scene. Molly lifting Amy’s hand in the air before their cheering classmates alone shows the powerful thing that women and teenage girls are when they can feel accepted and lift each other higher. This scene empowers those who might have felt weak at one point in their life, then came out the other end as better and stronger people. This so commonly happens to women and teenage girls, but it can be so much more difficult they feel like all of society criticizes you. This turning point, here, shows that women and teenage girls can be who they want to be and still feel accepted, whether it’s chasing success or being a part of the LGBTQ+ community or doing something courageous, even if it is plain stupidity. When Molly kisses Jared and then acts shy and raw when giving her speech, her personality has completely changed and she has finally gotten over herself. Over the next series of shots, eye line match shots are made as Molly looks over her classmates and makes eye contact as she gives her speech. In one shot, while she gives her new speech, she states that she sees her classmates and she confesses to thinking she always had to be better since she was scared of them. A shot of Triple A (Molly Gordon) looking down, humbled by her words, shows that she felt that Molly finally saw her too after their previous conversation. One of the last important shots in this scene shows Molly joining her class on the grass and sitting down; this goes hand in hand with her saying that she didn’t have it figured out as much as them – they were equals. The cheering for Molly becomes thunderous, she finally felt accepted now that she accepted her peers. The blue graduation caps and gowns seem more vibrant to match this emotional and dramatic moment. Molly and Amy act a lot happier than they were at the beginning of the film; this shows that when society accepts you without a label and you feel seen for who you actually are, then there is no need to turn against each other and beat each other down. Powerful and intelligent women and teenage girls are so common, but nearly impossible to find because of the labels society places on them and because they are expected to keep quiet with controversial topics such as feminism and abortion.

This scene relates to many other scenes in the film. For example, in the scene where Triple A drives Molly home from Nick’s party, she speaks openly about being called Triple A by both guys and girls. She didn’t expect the label to come from the girls too, but that is how society is – it gives disrespectful names and labels to women and girls while ignoring the fact that guys have done the exact same thing, yet they never received any such thing. This is also something Amy touches on in the first act of the film. Another scene that is very important in the film is the one where Molly and Amy are in Amy’s room, getting ready for the party. Several posters can be spotted around Amy’s room, such as “We are not ovaryacting,” and “My body my choice,” and “Science not silence.” The mise-en-scene here not only shows that Amy cares about what is going on in society and the world, but this conveys subtle messages about these controversial topics regarding women and teenage girls. This conveys the themes and messages that hormones, personal choices for oneself, and a male dominated field should not make women and girls worth any less than males. Another scene that is important in regards to feminism is the scene where the laced strawberries kick in and the girls are “transformed” into Barbie dolls. This scene mocks society’s view of female bodies and makes a point on its high beauty standards, as it is made clear that Amy and Molly state it was degrading to women. (Guerrasio) Lastly, another important scene to focus on is the opening scene, where photographs of strong women throughout history are shown on Molly’s wall to encourage positive feminism and the power women and girls actually can have – even if society says otherwise. These scenes and the entire form and style of the film shows the struggles of women and teenage girls by breaking the stereotypical sexualized roles portrayed in many films and showing that they have to work harder for what they want. For example, a 20 year old senior who failed 7th grade twice, was recruited to code for Google while another boy was to play soccer at Stanford. However, it does empower girls and women because Triple A received a 1560 on the SATs and was accepted to go to Yale while Gigi was set to go to Harvard. These repetitive scenes, themes, and ideas kept a pattern in establishing that women and girls are capable of doing anything, even if society will make it seem like they can’t. It also allows the development of the characters to see and admit their own flaws, while actually seeing others too without the influence of society’s negative ideas. This film has a three act structure that adheres to a Classical Hollywood Narrative style. The scene I chose to analyze in my shot chart falls in the third act, the falling action. This is where Molly and Amy realize their new goals, come to a resolution, and make it to graduation before their deadline. The film is explicitly about two overachieving, nerdy best friends and their journey on a disastrously fun night to the end of the year graduation party to prove to everyone they weren’t just the people who only studied and never had fun. The film implicitly shows their coming-of-age, their hard work as intelligent women, their passage to reaching emotional maturity on deep levels through acceptance of others and oneself, and the struggles women and teenage girls face every day from society.

Booksmart conveys a lot of themes and ideas explicitly and implicitly about the struggle women and teenage girls have in regards to respect, acceptance, gender equality, and how society views them. This scene is extremely important to analyze because it shows their personal growth, re-establishes a positive feminist outlook, all the while showing what women and girls actually do and say. Analyzing this one scene is important in the interpretation and analysis of the film as a whole because it links points and themes found in each scene through the use of cinematography, dialogue, acting, repetition, and mise-en-scene and contributes to an overall feel of positive feminism and empowerment. Though highly intelligent individuals, Molly and Amy admitting fault and changing who they were allows society to see that females are living breathing people with many qualities, but society makes it difficult to be and feel seen by others when you try to be yourself – especially when you’re female.

Works Cited
Highfill, Samantha. “Toasting Olivia Wilde’s Directorial Debut with the Stars of ‘Booksmart’.”, May 2019, Accessed April 2021
Guerrasio, Jason. “’Booksmart’ Is More than Just the Must-See Movie of the Summer: It’s Generation-Defining.” Business Insider, Business Insider, 23 May 2019, Accessed April 2021.
D’Alessandro, Anthony. “With Directorial Debut ‘Booksmart’, Olivia Wilde Addresses Underestimated Demographic Of Young Women.” Deadline, Deadline, 26 Dec. 2019, Accessed April 2021.
“Booksmart.” IMDb,,
“Olivia Wilde.” IMDb,,

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