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Olivia Wilde's Queer Love Story in Booksmart Is for the Gays

Olivia Wilde's Queer Love Story in 'Booksmart' Is for the Gays

Olivia Wilde's Queer Love Story in 'Booksmart' Is for the Gays

"Everyone has their people. They're out there for you. And I want this movie to remind everyone of that," Wilde told PRIDE.

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The directorial debut of actress Olivia Wilde, Booksmart follows two straight-laced students about to graduate high school who try to squeeze in one last party with their classmates and crushes before they're all whisked off to college. Kaitlyn Dever plays Amy, who's kept herself so busy with school that she never even approached her crush, a skater girl name Ryan.

When she finally gets a moment alone with her at a party, Ryan invites Amy to jump in the pool and as the two undress down to their swimsuits, Amy flushes at just a glimpse of Ryan's bare back. She's deep red as Ryan grabs her hand and leads her out to the pool, face etched with anxiety, hormones, sheer terror, unbridled excitement and the newness of it all just before they take the leap into the water.

We can see all the possibilities of the night play out in her expression. Of course, nothing turns out as you expect it to, which is exactly what it feels like when you're 17-years-old and have no idea what the fuck you're doing. The scene forces you to relive your own version of those moments—and that's what the best teen movies do, drop you right back into the angsty, wonderful hellfire rollercoaster ride that is high school.

"It's a love story. It's about a crush," Wilde tells PRIDE. "It's about Amy looking to connect and learning to break out of her shell. And the person she has a crush on is Ryan, and she's unsure of whether Ryan is also into girls and it's that confusing time of adolescence when you're like, does this person like me or is this just friendliness?"

The film rides a similar wave as the 2009 cult classic Superbad. Amy and Molly (played by Beanie Feldstein) have something to prove to their classmates and themselves, so they dive headfirst into a night of debauchery, underage drinking, bad drug trips, an outrageously gay murder mystery party, a narrow escape from a creepy pizza man, and one last high school party. 

A coming out story Booksmart is not. While Wilde knows coming out stories are important to tell, she even calls them "essential," it wasn't the narrative she wanted to tackle—and Booksmart feels refreshingly progressive because of it.

"I wanted to tell a story about kind of the next stage," she said. "Someone who has come out, their parents are aware, their friends are aware, and then they're just living life."

Queer teen stories have come a long way since Wilde stole the show as bisexual rebel Alex Kelly on FOX. "Back in 2003 or 4, we did The OC, that was a moment where I played a queer young woman, and that was like a big deal. And I was like, surely we're beyond that. Let's tell stories that are like, 'Okay great. So everybody loves who they love, and now what?'"

One of the many reasons a movie like Booksmart feels so exhilarating is because of its two leading ladies, something still shockingly rare in 2019. Now factor in one of them being gay and you've got something really revolutionary on your hands. 

"When I think about adolescence and high school, I think about the friendships that got me through it. I think it's an incredibly tumultuous time for anyone. And I do think it is those friendships that allow us to survive what can be a completely overwhelming, confusing time, regardless of who you are. I mean that's the thing."

Wilde hopes the film resonates with today's youth like the '80s and '90s teen movies she loved growing up. "I thought, there hasn't been a movie that shows that kind of friendship and acknowledges this generation," she pointed out. "Like Breakfast Club, like Fast Times, like Dazed and Confused, like Clueless. That felt like they were generational anthems that I would watch and rewatch and feel seen and feel inspired. Those movies made me excited to be young."

Wilde believes specificity in identity is what can make a character's story feel universal, and part of that went all the way to costuming details.

"A lot of times when people design costumes for these teen movies, let's just say, they create the most generic, other than like Clueless, which is obviously iconic, and Breakfast Club. Which is why those movies are so great for many reasons including the fact they allow for specificity. But often times, I've heard costume designers say, 'Well, we'd love to use that shirt, it's such a cool shirt, but we don't have six of them.' And so we have to use this bland Old Navy blue shirt because it's something we can replace. And I love April Napier, our costume designer. I said, 'I want everyone to be in very specific clothes, like vintage or their own clothes.' Molly's was very specifically designed to be rejecting the idea of California. But that's an example of at every level, allowing for specificity and singularly as opposed to trying to be like, it's your every woman's woman and you're every man's man. Like, no. These are very specific characters."

"Specificity is what allows a story to actually feel authentic. I think when these movies feel too kind of, generalized, they're just bland. I just imagine them kind of bouncing off the social fabric as opposed to piercing through."

It was an exciting challenge for the 35-year-old to tell this story about Generation Z. It's easy to underestimate teens and not take their stories seriously, Wilde says, and she can't imagine growing up in the stressful world of social media. 

"Often times, I find films about high school are told with a kind of patronizing perspective. It's this idea of, 'Oh how quaint, how sweet and funny, they care so much.' It's just like, fuck that. When you're young it's life or death. The stakes are so high. I think about young people today with the addition of social media in their lives, and how much more stressful that must be than it was even when I was young."

She took particular care to listen to her young stars and incorporate their points of view into the story.

"One day we were rehearsing a scene that was originally written to say, the line was, Molly says to Amy, 'You've been out for two years and you've never had a lesbian experience. I want that for you.' So we're rehearsing it and the girls were like, 'Hey Liv? The thing is, we wouldn't really say like lesbian experience. We would just say experience. So can we take that out?' And I was like, 'Take that out! Yes! This is what I'm talking about! I'm a dinosaur from the Jurassic age and you must help me understand!'"

"When I was 16 or 17 it was all about owning labels and the idea of like owning them and claiming them and celebrating them. And now this generation is so much more fluid and the concept around labels has really changed and experiences are just experiences and why must you put me in a box. I appreciate that and I admire that." 

One of the overarching themes of Booksmart is the idea of putting people into boxes, of not seeing someone beyond what you immediately assume. Over the course of the film, Amy and Molly fight to climb out the boxes they feel their classmates have put them in but they eventually realize that they were the ones with preconceived ideas of their peers, and even of each other. Exploration comes hand in hand with youth, and Wilde hopes viewers will allow themselves to be open and free. 

"Enjoy this experience of being young," Wilde advises. "Be present, be in the moment, especially because I think it must be so hard to be them, that I wanted to make something that celebrated all the kind of joyful, fun parts about being young. So that they could, I don't know, just to honor them in a way. And for the rest of us, to allow us to feel nostalgic about the relationships that shaped us."

Wilde hopes Amy's story, in particular, can be inspirational for queer people in high school.

"I hope that they see this movie and it makes them have hope that there are not only other people like them around the world. People who want to love them and take care of them. This film is aspirational in a way that we paint this society that is very accepting, and I want people to see that and know that it's real. And it's out there for them."

"I hope it gives someone hope. Someone who might be losing hope. I hope they see this movie and think, 'Maybe I should just get out of this environment. Maybe I just need to go somewhere else and I'm going to find my people.' Everyone has their people. They're out there for you. And I want this movie to remind everyone of that."

Booksmart is in theaters everywhere this Friday. Watch the first six minutes of Booksmart in the video below!

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Taylor Henderson

Taylor Henderson is a PRIDE.com contributor. This proud Texas Bama studied Media Production/Studies and Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, where he developed his passions for pop culture, writing, and videography. He's absolutely obsessed with Beyoncé, mangoes, and cheesy YA novels that allow him to vicariously experience the teen years he spent in the closet. He's also writing one! 

Taylor Henderson is a PRIDE.com contributor. This proud Texas Bama studied Media Production/Studies and Sociology at The University of Texas at Austin, where he developed his passions for pop culture, writing, and videography. He's absolutely obsessed with Beyoncé, mangoes, and cheesy YA novels that allow him to vicariously experience the teen years he spent in the closet. He's also writing one!