Actress Olivia Wilde ’02 is having her directorial debut today: her new movie, “Booksmart,” is premiering in theaters across the country. The film follows the story of two studious friends who decide that, after years of missing out on fun to stay ahead in school, they should live it up on the night before their high school graduation.
Wilde described her own personal experiences of dealing with the pressure to conform during her high school years at Andover and previously at the Georgetown Day School. She spoke about how an integral part of her identity, her love for theater, caused her to feel separated from the majority of the student body.
In an interview on the TODAY show, Wilde said, “I went to a nerdy booksmart school. I went to Andover. Everybody was really competitive and smart, and I liked that, but I was a theater person, and that’s where I had found all my happiness.”
Wilde described how she felt that she didn’t fit in at Andover after attending the “hippie” Georgetown Day School.
“People were sort of confused by me…I carried that anxiety of not fitting into those boxes. So in so many ways, this film is my response to that, saying please stop putting people into categories or trying to do so, because if you’re doing that to others, you’re definitely doing it yourself,” she said in the “At Liberty” podcast hosted by the American Civil Liberties Union.
The podcast interview was conducted by a fellow Andover alum, Emerson Sykes ’01. Sykes and Wilde had been friendly with one other at Andover: Wilde went to prom with one of Sykes’ best friends, according to Sykes.
Sykes said, “It was too delicious a coincidence the fact that we went to high school together and this movie is about high school…We talked about the overall feeling of high schoolers being misunderstood. Everybody has a reputation and a way that they’re perceived, often in some sort of little box or in one particular clique, but one of the main things about the movie sort of pushing back against that perception and creating your own identity but also expressing your true identity.”
In an interview with The New York Times, Wilde explained how she aimed to share a story that was both relatable and unconventional. Unlike other fun-centered high school comedy films such as “Dazed and Confused” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Booksmart” takes a “decidedly female perspective” to explore the power of female friendship, according to Wilde in the article.
Wilde said that although “Booksmart” follows what is a generally a conventional film structure, she wanted to provide a new spin on the genre with the inclusion of multidimensional female characters.
“Aside from just really wanting to tell a story about two smart girls who are unapologetically smart and so devoted to one another, I really wanted the opportunity to take what could be considered a very simple recognizable structure and surprise people within those boundaries,” said Wilde in the podcast.
According to Sykes, “Booksmart” interrogates the archetypal social stereotypes evident in the American high school experience to emphasize that people are more than their categories and appearances. Sykes feels that the movie advocates specifically for people, particularly teenagers, and urges the audience to understand that identity is more complex than they realize and that they have the right to exist beyond stereotypes.
Wilde hopes that the younger generation can see themselves represented in the movie. She believes that the movie’s importance lies in its ability to communicate its themes about identity to a broader audience, so that they feel inspired to realize a better world.
Wilde said in the podcast, “We’ve created a society with this movie of young people who are as fluid and progressive as I believe this young generation aspires to be and wants to be and is demanding to be. But there are still so many young people living in repressive environments around the world where this would still be a fantasy scenario, so we’re purposefully creating that picture for them to recognize.”
She continued, “That, I believe, is a powerful tool to to allow us all to evolve. I want people around the world to see this film and feel less alone. I want them to feel seen.”