This is a guest post By Tina Kakadelis
Teen romantic comedies are my bread and butter. I quote Clueless off the cuff and shamelessly insert She’s All That into daily conversations. My entire worldview was built on these movies, so it’s safe to say that my excitement level for Booksmart met, if not exceeded, the general public’s excitement for Endgame. This is the movie I’ve been waiting for my entire life.
Booksmart is the story of two best friends, Amy and Molly, on the night before their high school graduation. They are not what you would call cool by high school standards. Sure, they have fake IDs, but they’re fake college IDs they’ve been using to go to the twenty-four hour library. Needless to say, they haven’t spent their high school years partying.
Molly’s world falls apart when she learns that many of the other kids, who’ve spent the last four years partying, are also headed to the same prestigious school she’s going to. Molly thought she could be good at school or partying, but not both. Desperate to fix her mistake, Molly drags Amy along on a wild night of partying to see what they’ve been missing.
While Molly’s trying to make sure she’s getting the full high school party experience, Amy’s goals are a little smaller. She’d like to kiss a girl — a skater named Ryan, specifically. And Ryan just happens to invite Amy to the party Molly’s dying to go to. I won’t delve any further into the twists and turns of the evening, because they’re an absolute delight. Rest assured, Amy kisses a girl before the night is over.
This movie has been compared to Superbad because it’s a rambunctious teen comedy where the underdogs get to shine, but the comparisons stop there. Booksmart is an ode to teenage girls who spent more time studying and worrying than they did being carefree. That was me. I was that teenage girl. I was Amy. We both worry more than anyone ever should. We put ourselves down and are terrible at figuring out if a girl is gay. We had crushes on our English teachers and a brief beret phase. Our wardrobes consist of button ups and jean jackets covered in patches. We care deeply about feminism and Virginia Woolf. We’re petrified of breaking rules and completely incapable of telling a lie. In our hearts we’re confident, but that confidence is deeply buried. Sometimes we feel pushed around by people in our lives who are louder than we are.
We get roped into doing things we don’t want to do because we’re too afraid to speak up and do what we want. Amy’s journey isn’t about her coming to terms with her sexuality. It’s about figuring out how to come into her own, just like every other character in the movie. I’ve talked about LGBT representation for years, and about how you can’t become what you don’t see. When I saw Booksmart, I saw myself on the screen for the first time. Over the course of the film, Amy comes into her own, lets herself want things, and then pushes herself to get them. That’s something I struggle with too. Like Amy, I worry that if I want something and then get it, it could be taken away, and then what was the point? It turns out the point is the wanting.
There’s a scene toward the end of the movie where Molly and Amy finally end up at the party they’re supposed to go to and Ryan, the girl Amy so desperately wants to kiss, is there too. Ryan pulls Amy into the back yard where kids are swimming and strips down to her underwear. Ryan looks back at Amy expectantly and you can tell Amy’s mind is racing. Her first instinct is to find a way out of the situation, just like she’s been doing for the whole night and most of her life. She’s wanted out since before the night even began. Now she finds herself here, with the girl she likes, the girl who’s waiting for her. The music steadily builds in the background and you can feel the tension rising until Amy decides to just go for it and jump into the pool.
At that point, I started crying.
To me, that scene wasn’t about teenage romance. It was about Amy making a choice for herself. A choice that took more courage than she was used to showing. It’s the catalyst for the rest of her journey. I know the feeling of standing by the metaphorical pool, staring at the thing I want while part of my brain is telling me to make an excuse and get out of there. There’s always a voice saying maybe I should jump, but it’s a tiny voice. Listening to that tiny voice is hard, and it seems so much easier to look for a way out, to give up. I’ve used so many excuses in so many moments because I was scared. I’m not sure how many opportunities I missed because I listened to the voice that told me to find a way out instead of the voice that told me to jump.
This year has been one of immense change in my life. Good change and bad. One of the best changes is that I finally started taking medication for my anxiety. It got so bad that I couldn’t even bring myself to get on a plane. I had a full-blown panic attack at an airport, and that was the wake-up call I desperately needed. I thought everyone lived like that and they were all just better at hiding it than I was. Turns out I was wrong.
Seeing myself now, five months into medication, I don’t even recognize the person I used to be. My anxiety overwhelmed me and weighed me down. Not every single day is easy and there are still times when I stay in bed and watch Top Chef for hours on end, but life doesn’t seem hopeless anymore. I feel lighter and freer, like I want to listen to that tiny voice in my brain telling me to jump.
The jump is the most important moment in your life. It’s betting on yourself and going after what you want. You’re not worrying about the rest of the world because you have tunnel vision. A good type of tunnel vision. The kind that allows people to rise above themselves and find happiness.
What I think is so beautiful about Booksmart is that it finally gives a voice to the smart girl. Not a pretentious voice, but a voice that feels genuine and sincere. A voice that was mine. An ode to the magical feeling of being young, of friendship, and of taking steps toward becoming the person you were destined to be.
When I walked out of the theatre after Wonder Woman two years ago, I felt untouchable. Like the world was mine for the taking. I thought that feeling was reserved for superhero movies, for people with otherworldly strength. When I walked out of Booksmart, I felt the same way, but I didn’t need superhero strength or a lasso of truth to feel on top of the world. All I needed was a well-loved jean jacket and a girl who felt like me to be the hero of her own story. It’s something I hope everyone gets to feel because it’s one of the closest things to magic there is in this world.
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