Melissa B. Miller Costanzo‘s new feature, the romantic comedy The List, starring Halston Sage and Christian Navarro, is out now on VOD through Universal Pictures. Her first feature as a writer-director, All These Small Moments, starring Molly Ringwald, Brian d’Arcy James and Jemima Kirke, came out theatrically in 2019. Working in the art department on such award winning films as Indignation, The Fighter, and Precious, she developed an eye for detail and a perspective defined by experience. Her first feature as a producer was The Tested, starring Aunjanue Ellis, which was accepted to the prestigious IFP Independent Filmmaker Lab and Emerging Narratives at IFP Film Week and took home the top prize at the American Black Film Festival.
Today my father and I – yes, you heard it right, my father and I – discuss Booksmart. If you are a devoted follower of this column, you’ll remember he found his way into the conversation I had with my mom about Long Shot, so we thought we’d take it one step further. I’m not necessarily sure this is something I’d recommend for the faint of heart, but hell, you don’t know until you try it. Seeing this movie was an interesting exercise. If you asked the people who sat behind me, they would have told you that it was a hysterical look into a mirror, but they were probably 20, if that. If you ask me, I’d say, I have T-shirts older than both protagonists and maybe I’m not the demo for this movie. If you ask my dad, he’d say it would have been better to see the movie Yesterday and that Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is a not-to-be replicated classic. He’s not necessarily wrong on either count.
Booksmart, directed by Olivia Wilde and written by Emily Halpern, Sarah Haskins, Susanna Fogel and Katie Silberman, is about two overachieving best friends on the eve of their high school graduation who realize they may have missed out on fun things, and now try to make up for it in one long, crazy, night. After my dad (with my mom in tow) watched Booksmart in Boston, and I watched it in New York City, we had a chat to share our feelings on the movie.
Melissa: OK. Hi, Dad.
Melissa: All right, so –
Melissa: Mom, please let me just do it with Dad. OK?
Melissa: All right, Dad. Do you remember how we got into this predicament in the first place, why I am doing this with you now?
Dad: Because I thought talking with your dad was going to be very productive. Because I see the world very differently than Ma does. So when it’s you and Ma, it’s one thing; with me, it’s going to be a whole different type of conversation.
Melissa: Well, that’s the bloviating way of saying that you butted into the last one, and now you are in this one.
Dad: I didn’t know I did, but go ahead.
Melissa: I know that you guys wanted to see Yesterday, the Beatles movie.
Dad: I thought that would’ve been good.
Melissa: But instead you guys saw Booksmart by Olivia Wilde.
Melissa: Did you know anything about this movie going into it?
Dad: Other than Ma told me that it’s about some overachievers who might have missed out on things during high school. That’s all I knew, and then I forgot that’s what it was about.
Melissa: Do you know who Olivia Wilde is, the director?
Dad: Well, she’s an actress. I didn’t know she was a director until now.
Melissa: She wasn’t a director until now; this is her first movie as a director.
Dad: Yeah, that’s what I thought.
Melissa: All right, we’re going to start big, what was your favorite part about the movie?
Dad: There wasn’t any.
Melissa: Interesting. So, you never … there wasn’t one part of the movie that you laughed?
Dad: To be honest, I’m amazed the movie got made. Ever since Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, everybody’s tried to duplicate it. That was a quality movie. This one, to me, was just a waste of, just a bunch of unconnected stuff that, you know, rambled on. I mean, I didn’t see anything socially redeemable about this. Even Pretty in Pink … Not Pretty in Pink – what was the one?
Mom: Sixteen Candles?
Dad: No, with the lawyer. Something Blonde.
Melissa: Legally Blonde?
Dad: Legally Blonde. I mean, that movie did the same thing, with the same components, but it had a message, and was entertaining, and enjoyable. In this case, I don’t think it was.
Melissa: Legally Blonde is a completely different type of movie.
Dad: To me, I’ve never socialized with or been around people that acted like they do in this movie.
Melissa: So, you didn’t see yourself on the screen?
Dad: And I can’t believe most girls think the same way that the pair in this movie thought and how they perceived things.
Melissa: I’m not going to lie, I laughed out loud, I thought that the two girls …
Dad: Other people much younger than us at the movies were laughing. But I don’t think being mean and underhanded and conniving is something funny.
Melissa: They weren’t being mean or underhanded or conniving at all.
Melissa: Who were they being mean to?
Dad: That rich, drunk girl that turned into a nice girl at the end was mean to them. The boys were mean to them. To me, it was just a whole bunch of mean people in predictable situations that I didn’t find funny at all.
Melissa: Well, I laughed out loud, and I thought Beanie Feldstein and Kaitlyn Dever’s chemistry was really good, there was a very specific rhythm to their banter – it really felt like they were ad-libbing. I thought they did a really good job. What was hard to grab a hold of was that you see them getting along this whole time and they’re laughing and they have inside jokes and they’re best friends and then suddenly they have that scene where they’re fighting. It came out of nowhere. We never saw them disagree.
Melissa: Booksmart also is not a movie that relies heavily on plot. It’s more about a feeling or a state of mind. So if you like a movie with a plot, like Legally Blonde, then you’re going to have to pick a different movie.
Dad: But even Bachelor Party and Bridesmaids, well-done movies about, to my mind, similar things … I don’t particularly go for all this Animal House type of thing. And that’s not a knock on Animal House, which was I thought superb. But this is just not Animal House, it’s not Ferris Bueller’s Day Off – Booksmart and movies like it are all imitations of those quality movies.
Melissa: I wouldn’t say they are imitations; all movies are influenced by other movies. Kids now are different than you were, they are different than I was, and that was going to be my other question. The young people sitting behind me when I saw it absolutely loved it, and ate it up while I sat wrapped in my scarf feeling really old. So, it’s obviously a generational thing. But, I actually thought you were going to go the opposite direction and say that you still feel like a high school kid at heart.
Dad: I do. But I never acted that way, and I never related to people that acted that way, and I never had anything to do with them.
Melissa: It makes it sound like you’re living in a bubble.
Dad: I never experienced it.
Melissa: I did. I went to high school, I experienced it. People are mean, they drink, they do drugs, they’re nice, they joke around … What I actually thought was really nice was how all the characters understood each other at the end, and became empathetic towards each other, like Triple A and Molly, who ended up getting along and understood each other’s plights.
Dad: No, that was all contrived, and everything was very predictable. I just didn’t think it was a good movie. I would’ve walked out. I just thought it was mean. A lot of people were just mean to each other in the movie.
Melissa: What do you mean? 80 percent of the movie was about these two girls laughing and joking and trying to have a good time before they graduated.
Dad: They were trying to have a good time, but everyone else was mean to them.
Melissa: Meanwhile, you know that girl who kept reappearing, GiGi, that is Carrie Fisher’s daughter. Did you know that?
Dad: Triple A.
Melissa: No GiGi.
Dad: Which one was Gigi?
Melissa: Mom, I don’t know why you’re laughing. I’m having a miserable time with him.
Dad: Who was Gigi?
Melissa: Gigi was the one who kept reappearing everywhere.
Mom: She was everywhere. She was everywhere. She always reappeared in every scene.
Dad: I thought her name was Triple A.
Mom: Not Triple A.
Dad: Oh, Triple A was another one. OK, no, I understand now.
Melissa: Good grief, you guys. All I’m trying to say is that she’s Carrie Fisher’s daughter.
Dad: That’s the one that jumped off the boat, and we thought she was dead.
Melissa: So can you understand why the young people in the theater liked the movie?
Dad: It was a stretch. I could understand a few things were humorous and so on, but is it a belly laugh, like some of the other movies I made reference to? No.
Melissa: Look, I went with my friend and we both felt old when we left, but I can respect what they did, and respect the type of movie it is.
Dad: I thought the editing was good, photography was good, the technical aspects of it were good; but I thought the overall story wasn’t. I think conceptually the overachievers trying to let loose a little is a great idea. I don’t think it was done well … I don’t think the script was that great.
Also the “Fuck this,” and “Fuck that,” and everything in the beginning isn’t necessarily … I think they overdid that too.
Melissa: The swearing?
Dad: Yeah, and we don’t live a sheltered life.
Melissa: And is it true you have never had a beer?
Dad: It’s true that I have never had a beer in my life.
Melissa: So you never played Beer Pong?
Dad: And my wife has never had a beer in her life, and my mother had never had a beer in her life, and none of these were connected. It’s just a coincidence.
Melissa: Well, guess what? I’ve had a beer.
Dad: That is wonderful, sweetheart.
Melissa: I think there’s obviously a disconnect between how you think your childhood was, and how kids are today. I feel like with the internet and Instagram, they’re totally different animals than I was.
Dad: I agree with you. That is absolutely true. I don’t want to get political, but I read something in the Boston Globe today …
Mom: Here we go.
Dad: … that almost says the same thing. But they were referring to the colleges educating people on the East and West coasts, and they overlooked the people in the Midwest. That’s why the people in the Midwest voted for the president, and the people on both coasts didn’t. That the colleges aren’t doing the right job to train the minds of the people in the Midwest. I thought that was like the Bizarro World. So you’re right, there is a difference.
Melissa: All right. Next time I ask you to do one of these conversations, can you remind me that I don’t want to do it with you.
Dad: I can do that, sweetheart.
Mom: He liked the popcorn.
Dad: Popcorn was great, but very expensive.
Melissa: All right, I got to go.
Dad: Love you.
Melissa: All right, bye. Oh, and Mom: you’re reinstated.