Olivia Wilde has spent so much time in Las Vegas promoting her directorial debut, “Booksmart,” it can’t be much longer before she starts grousing about paid parking on the Strip.
On April 4, she spoke to members of the National Association of Theatre Owners at Caesars Palace as part of a panel with fellow directors Anthony and Joe Russo (“Avengers: Endgame”), Elizabeth Banks (“Charlie’s Angels”) and Dexter Fletcher (“Rocketman”).
Wilde — whose acting credits include “House,” HBO’s “Vinyl” and the made-in-Vegas feature “The Incredible Burt Wonderstone” — returned that night to accept the organization’s award for breakthrough director of the year. Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein, the stars of the raucous high school comedy that opens Friday, left CinemaCon with trophies for female stars of tomorrow.
The trio were back May 1, this time at the MGM Grand, to present Top R&B Artist at the Billboard Music Awards. Their most grassroots effort, though, came the night before, following a screening at Town Square for UNLV and Nevada State College students.
“This is the movie that I always wanted to see,” Wilde said during a Q&A. “I’ve been looking for movies about female friendship that feel authentic, that allow women to show how funny they are and how smart they are in different ways.”
An epic quest to party
“Booksmart” follows overachieving best friends Amy (Dever) and Molly (Feldstein), whose weirdness complements each other’s fantastically, on their final day of high school.
Molly, the class president, is off to Yale in the fall. Amy’s planning a summer of volunteering in Botswana before attending Columbia. While Molly is busy correcting some bathroom graffiti, she comes to realize that classmates who’ve spent the past four years partying are also going off to great universities.
Then she has a meltdown.
Then she has a water-filled condom burst upside her head.
Realizing that it’s their final chance to say they partied in high school, Molly drags Amy along on an epic quest to make it to the night’s biggest rager. All they need is the address.
The stakes — as well as the obstacles, which include Amy’s parents (Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte), the principal (Jason Sudeikis) and a hilariously omnipresent classmate (Billie Lourd) — seem monumental in the way they rarely do outside teen comedies.
Studying the classics
In crafting the adventure, Wilde drew upon some of the high school movies that inspired her.
“ ‘Dazed and Confused’ was a big one for me. It was a big one,” she told students. “Richard Linklater just, like, spoke to me and created a world and a soundtrack that really carried me through my adolescence. I was so inspired by, like, the vibe that was created with that movie.”
From its gender-inclusive restroom to the “My Body, My Choice” poster in Amy’s bedroom, and with an emphasis on body positivity, informed consent and standing up to the patriarchy, “Booksmart” is the early front-runner for most 2019 movie of the year. Yet it still feels like one of those high school movies that could live on.
Among her other influences, Wilde said, were “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Say Anything,” and the holy trinity of John Hughes comedies: “The Breakfast Club,” “Sixteen Candles” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
While answering questions and addressing students, at times, Wilde sounded as though she were giving a casual, expletive-laden commencement address.
“These are movies that felt like generational anthems. They made it feel more fun to be young. It was exciting and aspirational. The idea of being young is an adventure, and your friends are your family, and every day, something exciting and life-changing can happen.
“These movies are all about celebrating how (expletive) awesome it is to be young.”
The same can be said of “Booksmart.”
The “Booksmart” Q&A wasn’t Olivia Wilde’s only interaction with UNLV students this semester.
She also mentored the finalists, including UNLV’s Lily Campisi and Nicolle Peterson, in this year’s Coca-Cola Regal Films student filmmaking program.
Producer Campisi and director Peterson didn’t win the competition, but their short film, “The Big Wish,” will still play before every movie at every Regal theater in the country for eight weeks later this summer.
You can see it now at coke.com/regalfilms.