Meet Olivia Wilde, director. The actress has earned critical praise for her directorial debut, "Booksmart," which focuses on female high-school friendships. (Photo: ROBERT HANASHIRO/USA TODAY)
The rules were hers to break on “Booksmart,” where Wilde stays behind the camera directing a story of best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein), the forthright valedictorian, and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), gay and happily a wallflower, who arrive at graduation realizing that while they sacrificed a social life to ensure entry to prestigious colleges, their hard-partying classmates somehow got into the same schools.
Determined to change their own narrative, the BFFs embark on a raucous night to remember.
“Booksmart,” which follows in a long tradition of generation-defining teen movies, from “The Breakfast Club” to “Dazed and Confused,” has earned a 100% fresh critical rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with New York magazine calling it “ a small miracle” and The New Yorker deeming the comedy “wise and humbling.”
But directing it required Wilde to get out of her own way.
Until six years ago, Wilde was the glam “It” girl, who earned her stripes playing a groundbreaking bisexual on the teen soap “The O.C.” before making waves on “House” and in the sci-fi “Tron” franchise.
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Nothing can get in the way of the friendship between Molly (Beanie Feldstein, left) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever), shown in a behind-the-scenes shot on the "Booksmart" set. (Photo: ANNAPURNA PICTURES)
Then came an experimental phase. She starred in auteur-led films like Joe Swanberg’s highly improvised “Drinking Buddies” and Spike Jonze’s “Her.” She met Jason Sudeikis, got engaged and had two kids, Otis, 5, and Daisy, 2.
“I truly believe that having children – certainly for me, but I would argue for many women – made me feel a sense of confidence and inspiration that allowed me to move to a different stage of my life,” she says. “Once I had a baby, I was like, ‘Wow, what can’t I do? This is extraordinary. It’s miraculous what I can juggle.’ ”
Wilde began to flex. She directed music videos for the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. She shot the pilot for HBO’s “Vinyl” three weeks after giving birth to Otis.
“And I was like, ‘Wow, I’m doing more than I was doing before kids,’ ” says Wilde. “Because somehow I’m now alerted to my own potential. It’s all confidence. For any woman that age is a really interesting time, breaking away from your younger self.”
Then she found the script for “Booksmart,” a teen comedy that had been floating around for a decade before “it went into the dusty files of scripts that don’t ever get made,” says Wilde, who pitched herself to direct it in 2015. She and screenwriter Katie Silberman (“Set It Up”) began rewriting the script to reflect individualistic, fluid, radically inclusive Generation Z high school kids today.
Feldstein, whose brother Jonah Hill starred in 2007’s “Superbad” (a film many have deemed the male-led companion piece to “Booksmart”), says the resulting film “is saying we are more than just our bodies or who we are interested in sexually or where we come from or our religion. They play a part in who we are, but they are not the only thing about us.”
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Jason Sudeikis and Olivia Wilde got engaged in late 2012 and have two kids: Otis, 5, and Daisy, 2. Wilde directs her partner, who plays the principal, in "Booksmart." (Photo: FRAZER HARRISON/GETTY IMAGES)
Most refreshing? The R-rated, often-bawdy “Booksmart” rises above body-shaming and showcases a spectrum of sexuality without force-feeding preachy messages of acceptance.
“Like, can we just tell a story about a young gay woman without making a huge deal about her being gay? Can we just approach it the way we would if she were straight?” says Wilde. “We just went into it saying, let’s be aspirational in our reflection of this young generation, which is more evolved and fluid and woke, of course, than we ever were.”
"Booksmart" follows a duo's journey from studying to partying as graduation looms.
In rehearsals, Wilde would encourage her young cast to speak up if a line didn’t feel quite right. “She let us go off and dance at the beginning of the movie because it’s just what came to us naturally,” says Dever. (It’s how the girls would greet each other on the set, says Wilde, who released the first six minutes of “Booksmart” on YouTube last week.)
Off-camera, life is still morphing for Wilde. “One child is very portable. And two creates their own separate world and life and needs. It’s not as easy,” she acknowledges.
Director Olivia Wilde encouraged actors Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein to speak up on the set of "Booksmart." (Photo: FRANCOIS DUHAMEL/ANNAPURNA PICTURES)
“The day Otis came to visit (the set), he just kept yelling ‘Cut!’ because he realized that when you say cut, people hang out and talk and eat snacks and laugh. So he kept going, ‘Cut! Cut!’ ”
Still, her most memorable review came after Wilde screened the film at home in Brooklyn for Sudeikis, who plays the beleaguered principal.
“He was laughing so hard from the beginning to the end, really loudly. And I knew it wasn’t for me. I could tell it was real. I was like, ‘OK, we made something and it’s working.’ ”
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The summer movie season is upon us again and blockbusters en route include the sci-fi comedy "Men in Black: International" (in theaters June 14), where Agent M (Tessa Thompson, left) and Agent H (Chris Hemsworth) travel the globe to deal with a series of alien attacks. GILES KEYTEFullscreenCosmic warriors Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper, left) and Nebula (Karen Gillan) weigh their losses in the Marvel superhero showdown "Avengers: Endgame" (April 26). MARVEL STUDIOSFullscreenActress/filmmaker Eva (Diane Kruger, left) becomes enamored of the enigmatic and androgynous literary persona JT Leroy (Kristen Stewart) in the drama “JT Leroy.” (April 26) ALLEN FRASERFullscreenCongresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (right) is one of the political figures featured in “Knock Down the House,” a Netflix documentary about the 2018 midterm elections. (May 1) NETFLIXFullscreenDolph Lundgren (left, with Isaiah Washington) stars as the leader of an elite military team tasked with saving the world from zombies in the action film “Dead Trigger.” (May 3) SABAN FILMSFullscreenTed Bundy (Zac Efron, left) gets moral support in court from girlfriend Liz (Lily Collins) in the Netflix drama "Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil, and Vile." (May 3).
BRIAN DOUGLASFullscreenMaia Mitchell and K.J. Apa star as friends figuring out if there’s something more between them before they go off to college in the Netflix teen drama “The Last Summer.” (May 3) NETFLIXFullscreenJournalist Fred Flarsky (Seth Rogen) reunites with Charlotte Field (Charlize Theron), his childhood crush and babysitter who's now running for president, in the romantic comedy "Long Shot." (May 3)
MURRAY CLOSEFullscreenMoxy (voiced by Kelly Clarkson) and her friends hit the big screen in the animated movie “Uglydolls.” (May 3) STX FILMSFullscreenRachel Dratch (far left), Emily Spivey, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Ana Gasteyer and Paula Pell star as girlfriends who travel to Napa to celebrate a birthday in the Netflix comedy “Wine Country,” directed by Poehler. (May 8 in theaters, May 10 on Netflix) COLLEEN HAYESFullscreenHannah Murray stars as Leslie Van Houten, one of three women imprisoned for carrying out the murderous machinations of Charles Manson in the drama "Charlie Says." (May 10) IFC FILMSFullscreenRebel Wilson (left) and Anne Hathaway star as a couple of scam artists seeking revenge on men who’ve wronged them in the comedy “The Hustle.” (May 10) CHRISTIAN BLACKFullscreenTim (Justice Smith) teams with cute sleuth Pikachu (voiced by Ryan Reynolds) to find his missing dad in the comedy "Pokemon: Detective Pikachu." (May 10) WARNER BROS.FullscreenJacki Weaver (center left), Diane Keaton and Pam Grier head up a cheerleading squad in their retirement community in the comedy “Poms.” (May 10) KYLE BONO KAPLANFullscreenEthan (Dennis Quaid), Hannah (Marg Helgenberger) and their beloved dog Bailey (voiced by Josh Gad) deal with family drama in the sequel "A Dog's Journey." (May 17)
JOE LEDERERFullscreenJohn Wick (Keanu Reeves) is excommunicated from the global community of assassins and has a bounty on his head in the action film “John Wick: Chaper 3 – Parabellum.” (May 17) NIKO TAVERNISEFullscreenNatasha (Yara Shahadi) and Daniel (Charles Melton) are strangers who fall for each other during one magical day, as she also fights to keep her Jamaican family from being deported, in the love story “The Sun Is Also a Star.” (May 17) ATSUSHI NISHIJIMAFullscreenJohn Lithgow and Blythe Danner star as two eccentric small-town hoarders who fall in love in the romantic drama “The Tomorrow Man.” (May 22) BLEECKER STREETFullscreenA criminal (Scott Adkins) gets a furlough from prison and takes revenge on the folks who put him there in the action thriller “Avengement.” (May 24) SAMUEL GOLDWYN FILMSFullscreenThe Genie (Will Smith, center) makes the kingdom of Agrabah a magical, musical place in Guy Ritchie’s new live-action “Aladdin.” (May 24) DISNEYFullscreenBrandon Breyer (Jackson A. Dunn) is an alien boy raised on Earth with superpowers and a sinister side in the superhero horror film “Brightburn.” (May 24) BORIS MARTINFullscreenThe documentary “Halston” focuses on 1970s superstar fashion designer Roy Halston Frowick and features interviews with Liza Minnelli and Joel Schumacher. (May 24) BERRY BERENSENFullscreenA former cello prodigy (Allison Williams, left) befriends her teacher’s star pupil (Logan Browning) in the Netflix horror thriller “The Perfection.” (May 24) NETFLIXFullscreenNikolaj Coster-Waldau stars as a Copenhagen cop hunting the ISIS killer who murdered his partner in director Brian DePalma’s thriller “Domino.” (May 31) ROLF KONOWFullscreenThe three-headed golden dragon Ghidorah is one of the gigantic creatures battling for supremacy in the epic “Godzilla: King of the Monsters.” (May 31) WARNER BROS.FullscreenOctavia Spencer plays a loner who takes a strangely obsessive interest in the local teens who party at her house in the thriller "Ma." (May 31)
ANNA KOORISFullscreenTaron Egerton (left) stars as Elton John, Bryce Dallas Howard is his mother Sheila, and Richard Madden plays manager John Reid in the musical fantasy “Rocketman.” (May 31) DAVID APPLEBYFullscreenBenjamin Flores Jr. (far left), Miya Cech, Alessio Scalzotto and Jack Gore star as misfit teens at a summer camp who contend with an alien invasion in the action-adventure "Rim of the World." (May) AARON EPSTEINFullscreenA pair of Brooklyn teens (Dante Crichlow, far left, and Eden Duncan-Smith, far right) show a friend (Jonathan Nieves) the makeshift time machine they built to save a loved one from being wrongfully killed by a cop in the sci-fi adventure "See You Yesterday," produced by Spike Lee. (May) NETFLIXFullscreenPossessed by the cosmic Phoenix force, X-Men team member Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) is both hero and villain in the superhero film “Dark Phoenix.” (June 7) 20TH CENTURY FOXFullscreenAlec Baldwin stars as controversial automaker John DeLorean in the biopic “Framing DeLorean.” (June 7) NICOLE RIVELLIFullscreenHilary Swank stars as an injured stranger who gets on the bad side of Mother (Rose Byrne), a robot designed to repopulate Earth after mankind’s extinction, in the sci-fi thriller “I Am Mother.” (June 7) NETFLIXFullscreenEmma Thompson stars as a late-night talk-show legend whose life is turned upside down when she hires her first female staff writer in the comedy “Late Night.” (June 7) EMILY ARAGONESFullscreenDaisy (voiced by Tiffany Haddish, far left) needs help from Chloe (Lake Bell) and Snowball (Kevin Hart) for a dangerous mission in the animated sequel “The Secret Life of Pets 2.” (June 7) ILLUMINATION AND UNIVERSAL PICTURESFullscreenJesse Eisenberg stars as a sky bookkeeper who joins a karate dojo after getting attacked by a motorcycle gang in the dark comedy "The Art of Self-Defense." (July 12) BLEECKER STREETFullscreenCooper Rowe (left) and Isaac Jay star as youngsters whose group visits Joshua Tree and accidentally summons a shape-shifting creature in the horror film “Head Count.” (June 14) SAMUEL GOLDWYN FILMSFullscreenJessie Buckley (center) stars as a Scottish musician who dreams of becoming a Nashville country star in the drama “Wild Rose.” (June 14) NEONFullscreenJack Quaid and Maya Erskine play longtime friends who act as each other’s dates for a series of insufferable weddings in the romantic comedy “Plus One.” (June 14) RLJE FILMSFullscreenThree generations come together in “Shaft,” including cybersecurity expert John “J.J.” Shaft (Jessie T. Usher), famed New York detective John Shaft (Samuel L. Jackson) and venerable private eye John Shaft Sr. (Richard Roundtree). (June 14) KYLE KAPLANFullscreenBo Peep (voiced by Annie Potts) and her sheep take on a mission with Buzz (Tim Allen), Woody (Tom Hanks) and new friends Ducky (Keegan-Michael Key) and Bunny (Jordan Peele) in "Toy Story 4." (June 21) PIXARFullscreenStruggling musician Jack (Himesh Patel) impresses childhood best friend Ellie (Lily James) by being the only person on Earth who remembers Beatles songs in the romantic comedy “Yesterday.” (June 28) UNIVERSAL PICTURESFullscreenA Chicago high-school security guard (Anthony Anderson, left) and a musical prodigy (Khalil Everage) bond over a shared love of hip-hop in the Netflix coming-of-age drama "Beats." (June) ELIZABETH MORRISFullscreenInfluential music pioneer and businessman Clarence Avant (right, with Quincy Jones) is the subject of director Reginald Hudlin's Netflix documentary "The Black Godfather." (June) NETFLIXFullscreenA New York cop (Adam Sandler) and his wife (Jennifer Aniston) become the prime suspects in a murder during a trip to Europe in the ensemble comedy "Murder Mystery." (June) SCOTT YAMANO/NETFLIXFullscreenBob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg visit the grave of Jack Kerouac in the Netflix documentary "Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese." (June)
NETFLIXFullscreenNick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson, left) and Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) recruit Spider-Man (Tom Holland) for a new mission in "Spider-Man: Far From Home." (July 2) JAY MAIDMENTFullscreenFlorence Pugh (from left), Vilhelm Blomgren and Jack Reynor are tourists who discover the terrifying secrets of the Swedish village they visit in the horror film “Midsommar.” (July 3) GABOR KOTSCHY/A24FullscreenAn Uber driver (Kumail Nanjiani, left) gets mixed up with a detective (Dave Bautista) hunting a terrorist in the action comedy “Stuber.” (July 12) HOPPER STONEFullscreenThe career highs and lows of singer-songrwriter David Crosby (left, with wife Jan Dance) are chronicled in the documentary “David Crosby: Remember My Name.” (July 19) SONY PICTURES CLASSICSFullscreenYoung Simba (voiced by JD McCrary) chats with his dad's loyal majordomo Zazu (John Oliver) in "The Lion King." (July 19) DISNEYFullscreenWhen his family moves into an old mansion, young Jude (Christopher Convery) makes friends with a life-like doll in “Brahms: The Boy II.” (July 26) DAVID BUKACH/STX FILMSFullscreen
Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio, right) is a TV star struggling to break into the movies and Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt) is his stunt double in Quentin Tarantino's 1969-set "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood." (July 26) ANDREW COOPERFullscreenAisling Franciosi stars as a 21-year-old Irish ex-convict seeking vengenance during the 1825 British colonization of Australia in the drama "The Nightingale." (Aug. 2)
MATT NETTHEIMFullscreenFrenemies Luke Hobbs (Dwayne Johnson, left) and Deckard Shaw (Jason Staham) team up to take on a supervillain in the action film "Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw." (Aug. 2)
DANIEL SMITHFullscreenAldis Hodge (with Sherri Shepherd) stars as a high-school football star whose NFL dreams are waylaid when he's wrongfully convicted of a crime in the inspirational drama "Brian Banks." (Aug. 9) BLEECKER STREETFullscreenIsabela Moner (with Eugenio Derbez) stars as teenage explorer Dora in the kid-friendly adventure "Dora and the Lost City of Gold." (Aug. 9) VINCE VALITUTTIFullscreenBoyd Holbrook (left, with Michael C. Hall) plays a Philadelphia cop doggedly investigating a serial killer who surfaces every nine years in the Netflix psychological thriller “In the Shadow of the Moon.” (Aug. 9) SABRINA LANTOSFullscreenRed the bird (voiced by Jason Sudeikis, left) and Leonard the pig (Bill Hader) are frenemies who team up against a common threat in the animated sequel "The Angry Birds Movie 2." (Aug. 14) SONY PICTURES ANIMATIONFullscreenBest friends (played by Jacob Tremblay, Brady Noon and Keith L. Williams) make a series of really bad decisions after using a drone to spy on teen girls in the comedy "Good Boys." (Aug. 16) Photo credit: Universal PicturesFullscreenCate Blanchett (right) stars as the enigmatic Bernadette and Emma Nelson is her loving daughter Bee in Richard Linklater’s mystery comedy “Where’d You Go, Bernadette.” (Aug. 16) WILSON WEBB/ANNAPURNA PICTURESFullscreenEmperor Maximus (voiced by Adam Lambert) sings about his mischievous scheme in the animated “Playmobil: The Movie.” (Aug. 30) STX FILMSFullscreen
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