Rocketman

Paramount Pictures

There really is no way to talk about the new movie Rocketman without bringing up last year’s smash hit Bohemian Rhapsody. Not only are both movies musical bio-pics about larger-than-life, flamboyant and queer musical icons from the ‘70s and ‘80s, but both movies are directed by the same man, Dexter Fletcher. Yes, I realize that Fletcher isn’t officially listed as the director of Bohemian Rhapsody, but he is the one the studio brought in to finish that picture after the firing of Bryan Singer, so I consider him the director (because I don’t really want to acknowledge Singer).

Bohemian Rhapsody, the story of the rock group Queen, with singer Freddie Mercury at the center, exploded into theatres, amassing huge box office numbers and critical acclaim, closing out the year with several Oscar nominations, including one for Best Picture and a Best Actor win for Rami Malek, whose Mercury will certainly go down as one of the best rock star performances in movie history. So yes, Rocketman, the musical bio-pic about legendary singer/songwriter Elton John, had a lot to live up to. Coming less than a year after Bohemian Rhapsody’s success, it was sure to face one of two possible outcomes: ride on the coattails of Bohemian Rhapsody because that movie fostered a renewed interest in the nostalgia for the music of that era, or die a slow death because people will feel they’ve been there, done that and are ready to move on. Only time will tell how Rocketman will be received, both financially and critically, but, no matter what, it had its work cut out for it before a single frame was shot.

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Booksmart

Annapurna

If there’s one thing we never seem to run out of, it’s teen comedies. I grew up in the John Hughes era, so I was spoiled by mainstream movies that aimed at teenage angst, awkwardness, insecurities and hormones. But while the ‘80s may seem to have been the heyday for teen comedies, the genre has seen a real re-emergence in the last decade. Films like Superbad, Clueless, Mean Girls, Easy A, Election and Love, Simon all proved that, when done right, the teen comedy can be well done AND popular. And maybe that’s just the problem. Of all the movie genres, it just might be the one (other than superhero movies) that feels saturated. It’s almost gotten to the point where you feel as if you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all. It takes something really special to set one apart from all the others.

Last year, we saw Love, Simon break a mold by being the first gay high school rom-com. Superbad, from 2007, set itself apart by being shameless, raunchy and crude. And now comes Booksmart, a movie that mines a little bit of both Love, Simon and Superbad (not to mention Election and Mean Girls) but finds a way to cover all the same ground in a completely unique way.

Directed, produced, written by and starring women, Booksmart feels like so much more than just another teen comedy because it is. The writing is fresh, the performances are fearless and the direction is fierce and bold. Who would have ever seen this from actress Olivia Wilde, who makes her directorial debut. Wilde proves that, much like Greta Gerwig, who made her directorial debut with the brilliant Lady Bird in 2017, if you give women actors as many chances to write and direct as you do men, the new approaches, breadth of stories and fresh perspectives just may lead to some pretty amazing results.

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