Right after Olivia Wilde saw Lady Bird – the 2017 film about the loving, infuriating, infinitely complicated relationship between a teen and her mother – her first impulse was to pick up the phone to call her mom. Now, when the credits roll on Wilde's new movie Booksmart, hearings are dialing their old high school best friends.
These are the friends who got you through teens, Wilde says – the ones who knew you better, you were more vulnerable, and saw you in a more intense and intimate way than romantic relationships. Wilde continues to have those friendships today – this movie, she says, is "my way of honoring the female friendships that have sustained me."
Booksmart tells the story of two star students headed to the Ivy League. For years, Molly and Amy have had first graduation, but the night before graduation, they realize that the kids who partied aussi got into good schools. Worried that they've missed out, the two friends decide to cram four years of high school partying into one night.
Wilde says Booksmart is a "love letter" to the '80s and' 90s movies that defined her teens – and she hopes it will help today's teens "celebrate being young." Wilde says she's "endlessly inspired" by young people: "They really, actually, make me feel optimistic about the future, which is hard these days," she says.
This is Wilde's directorial debut, and she says the pre-release is better and worse. "I've never been so anxious to release something into the world, but I've never been so proud," she says.
Pushing back against the stereotypical "boxes" of teen movies
You think this is going to be a movie about two nerdy young women who are eager to be accepted by their peers. What it really is, is the story of two very smart young women who are unapologetic about their intelligence, who are going through a transformation to realize that they have misunderstood their peers to be one-dimensional when actually everyone is also very smart. They've just been living their lives differently.
We wanted the audience to go to reality that they all expect a high school to be very young. in their peers and in themselves today.
On celebrating platonic friendships
Society gives us so much context for the romantic relationship – there are so many love songs about romantic relationships … beginning the middle and the end. We have very few love songs, movies, and stories about friendship – platonic friendship – and yet it is in so many ways deeper. …
People make this life in their own time and they are incredibly significant. And I hope that this film makes it easier for people to be friends.
On how actors Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein prepared to portray a "layered, deep," 10-year friendship
They knew that they were going to create a history. … So I suggest that they live together [during the making of the movie] and during preproduction as well. Because they needed to spend time together where they were no longer spelled out by the newness of a friendship. They needed to sink into a little bit more and spend some time just getting in touch with each other in all types of moods. …
They lived together in LA for at least 10 weeks, and they spent every day together, and they drove to work together – and what they created is a texture that you can feel when you watch the movie.
On the road to loyalty and betrayal
There is something in these very intense friendships in our youth. And there is a pivotal scene in the movie where one character reveals that it is not actually on board the plane that the other thought they had agreed upon. And in that moment there is a crack – there's a crack in between this very, very intense union.
I wanted to highlight that this kind of trauma to a young person is something that is necessary in order to evolve. You must be able to tell your closest ally: I disagree with you. I am my own individual. And so we are working hard on this argument and showing that they are in the process of doing this.
On the way to make an "anthem" for Generation Z – the generation born in the mid-90s and early 2000s
I grew up watching The Breakfast Club and Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Say Anything, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Clueless – and those movies were more than just movies to me as a young person; they kind of contextualized the teen experience for me. They made me excited to be young with this movie – it was to allow this generation – Generation Z – to feel that they had been kind of immortalized. …
It must be so hard to be a young person right now. We've got them in such a difficult situation. … They've decided to ask a different paradigm. They say: We are going to change the way we look at gender, sexuality, politics. They kind of incorporate politics into their individual identities and they really understand the meaning of their voice.
Francois Duhamel / Annapurna Pictures
On asking her Generation Z cast members to help make the script sound authentic
When I'm in the mood for something else, I'm going to say, "You're going to feel like you're going to be there, I want you to raise your hand and tell me. I just want to rewrite it in your own voice. " …
Sometimes it was just sort of slang that would be a little bit more natural. Molly said to Amy, "You've been out for two years and you've never had a lesbian experience." I want that for you. " And when we were rehearsing, the girls called me over and said: "You know, we do not really say 'lesbian experience,' we would just say experience."
And I thought: That's great. Change it. That's wonderful. … Things have really changed … Ten to 13 years ago when I was playing a young The O.C. it was a very different conversation. It was all about owning labels and being very upfront about labels. … It was a different conversation at that time.
This is a movie about female friendship made by a man
I'm sure it could be just slightly different. … Men can make stories about women – just like Bo Burnham's incredible movie Eighth Grade. … I encourage men to direct films about women, and I encourage women to direct films about men – because we are so young that we are here. … It's not necessary to separate us. …
Amy Heckerling directed both Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless, and it's likely that a lot of people growing up on these movies did not realize they were both directed by a woman. … I hope[watchingaudiences[audienceswatchingBooksmart]just feel that it's a good film that feels authentic and funny, and that when they look up and see it's a woman they say, "Oh, that's interesting."
Mallory Yu and Sarah Handel produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Beth Novey adapted it for the Web.