Booksmart’s Amy is The Lesbian Teen Representation I’ve Wanted My Entire Life
Warning: Major spoilers for the film Booksmart appear throughout the piece.
Last week, I saw Booksmart on its opening night, geeked out about how the high school comedy was finally being queered, and wrote about this emerging drama and why we need more movies like this one. This week, still obsessing over the brilliance that is this movie and to celebrate Pride month, I delved into the scenes we didn’t want to spoil for you early on, discussing Amy’s unashamed lesbianism and the queerer-than-ever scenes that I continue to replay over and over in my head.
In one of Booksmart’s first scenes, Amy is caught staring at her high school crush, as seen through the classic, slow motion scene of said crush skateboarding and Amy nearly gawking at her and hardly being able to function. It was resembling of that iconic scene in 10 Things I Hate About You, where Cameron sees Bianca for the first time on campus and stops and stares for what feels like a lifetime as Bianca effortlessly walks by (in slow motion, of course). But in 2019’s gay version of that, the popular girl of Bianca is instead Ryan, a blonde tomboy who seems to be into women, but Amy is just downright clueless. “I don’t know if she’s even into girls,” Amy says, where Molly bluntly replies, “She wore a polo shirt to prom.”
Her later attempt at flirting with Ryan, as encouraged by her BFF, is both painful to watch but also on brand for all baby gays who still don’t have the hang of figuring out both their crush’s sexuality and if she’s also into them. Only minutes into the film, I had to ask myself: is my life literally Amy’s, or is it just because I’m a lesbian and even the most intricate of details seemed to capture these shared experiences that so many lesbians go through?
While Amy could be included just to fulfill the role of being the single queer character in the classic teen comedy, and even worse, to be merely a joke that is common in heteronormative narratives, she is not only surrounded by other queers that attend her high school, but her queer desire and identity become crucial parts to the movie’s storyline. Rather than acting as an oppressive force, her lesbianism is instead prioritized through things that every high school girl wants to experience: she wants to have her first sexual and romantic experiences with a girl before she leaves the country, and she ultimately wants her best friend to support her through these desires.
Luckily, Molly fully encourages her, similar to Michael pushing Cameron to win over Bianca, but gay and with two womxn! Molly doesn’t simply tell Amy to “go for it” with Ryan; instead, they shamelessly talk about her queer desires and the nuances of lesbian sex throughout the entire film. She goes on to tell Amy how many girls will be “up [Amy’s] vagina” at Columbia next year, and she even helps her get through figuring out just how to have sex, especially when queerness is typically erased from most sexual education programs. They talk about how lesbian sex is just masturbation but “flipped,” and they even watch lesbian porn together just to get the “mechanics” figured out.
Never have I seen two teenage girls on screen talk about sex so freely, especially queer sex. It’s a common bonding factor for teenage girls to converse about boys and heterosexual desire, so seeing scenes like this, especially between a queer and straight woman, revealed that it is possible for these kinds of conversations to happen, to be celebrated, and to be presented on the big screen. I was previously, and still sometimes am, afraid to talk about the intricacies of queer desire, sex, and relationships with my straight friends due to this fear of producing discomfort in said friends, yet Amy and Molly’s friendship proves otherwise.
Booksmart really felt like a direct attack towards me circa high school when the two finally make it to that party they’ve been trying to get to the entire movie. I swear, every scene during the movie’s peak literally happened to me in high school, or it at least felt like it could have happened to me if my life was a teen comedy. While both Molly and Amy’s interactions with the peers who have never spoken to them outside of class directly resembled my surreal experiences of a similar graduation party where the popular kids actually treated me like a human for that one night, it’s Amy’s specific moments that truly spoke to me (and probably every other queer womxn watching).
Amy’s entire purpose of attending this party is to finally make a move on Ryan, which starts off rocky—her initial, awkward yet hilarious conversation with her can be summed up by her asking her crush if she would be afraid of going to Uganda just to see if she was also queer. Yet, her nerves start to dissolve when she gets to spend time with her crush, through singing karaoke and even sharing subtle physical contact. This contact may look like nothing, but for Amy, and for any queer teen who has their first major crush on someone of the same gender, it felt like the world. I have to think again: this has literally happened to me! Amy’s butterflies literally escape the screen as we, particularly the queers who know exactly what she’s going through, start to think that she could actually get somewhere with her crush, a rare moment that happens to so few baby gays.
She then jumps into a pool with Ryan and several other classmates to the first notes of Perfume Genius’s “Slip Away,” and I suddenly felt massive waves of nostalgia as we see her swimming through swarms of legs just to find the girl that inexplicably means everything to her. I was Amy here, and I was Amy when she sees Ryan kissing another guy (Molly’s crush, funnily enough) and immediately jumps out of the pool, scurrying to find her clothes and get the hell out of that heartbreaking scene. I felt more in this scene than in any dramatic lesbian tragedy, as all of us go through heartbreak such as this, yet Booksmart made it undeniably queer through these certain details, making it relatable for the queer womxn that have been denied on-screen narratives that included them in the ways we wish for.
And to put a cherry on top of the delicious ice cream sundae that is Booksmart, it indeed included a very real, very messy lesbian sex scene that awkward teen comedies have been lacking for, well, forever. Instead of getting her first experience with Ryan, an occurrence that is too good to be true, she gets it with the cold, mean girl of Hope, who the general audience knows from an earlier scene of her making fun of Amy, but queer womxn know from this same scene that was obviously an act of flirting. Their first kiss was sparked from a fight (a lesbian mood, if you ask me), and it turns into more—it’s messy but hot at the same time, giving us the hope that maybe Amy’s first time will actually be good, even though she seems to have no idea what she’s doing. But because it’s a teen comedy, the hookup ends early by Amy throwing up on Hope.
Even though her first sexual experience is more than cringe-worthy, it is now at the top of my favorite on-screen queer sex scenes, as it’s the realest I’ve ever seen. No one’s first time, especially for queer people who lack the education, is perfect—it’s messy, it’s a lot of fumbling and awkward pauses, and it’s throwing up on your partner, in this case. It was an equal case of awkward laughter and, again, wondering is Amy me?, making it a scene that makes me wish every teen comedy had a lesbian lead just so we could get these relatable moments that show the at times painful realities of teenage sex.
But of course, the girl has to get the girl, right? Even after this uncomfortable scene, Hope still shows up at her door the next day after they graduate with a bag of the clothes she left amidst her escape from further embarrassment. It’s awkward and reveals more of Amy’s clueless lesbian tendencies, but she still gets Hope’s number in the end, parting ways by saying she could always crash on her couch in Botswana if she’s ever there. We don’t know if anything else will happen between the two, and to be honest, probably nothing will—high school just ended! But all that matters is that she got that number, and maybe, just maybe, lesbians can win in the coming-of-age comedy.
I wouldn’t say that Amy is a direct replica of my high school self—I came out three years after she did, I never took a gap year to make tampons in Botswana, I never got a girl’s number until semesters into college. Yet, her representation still feels scarily fitting for me and other queer womxn that have seen the film, especially for those that are still in high school or recently experienced it. I have consistently been thinking about how much I would’ve needed this movie when I was actually experiencing high school as a closeted, lesbian teen who didn’t even realize I was into girls until my senior year, and who couldn’t even use the label of lesbian until college. It might not have been the force to actually bring me to terms of who I was, but it may have shed some positive and realistic light on what it’s like to be queer in high school, chockfull of hilarious movie tropes that I always wished were gayer. Booksmart both queers these tropes but also doesn’t glorify them nor condemn them; rather, they simply fully depict the nuances, the complications, and the wonders of being a gay outsider in high school with your best friend by your side.
About the Author
Natalie Geisel is in her third year at The George Washington University studying women’s, gender, and sexuality studies with a minor in communication. Her love of writing sprouted from starting her fashion blog in high school, and her current written work spans from topics such as style, LGBTQ+ content, and music. She is interested in intersecting gender and sexuality into the world of wellness, hoping to add a queer voice to its editorial side. When she’s not writing, she spends her spare time at dance rehearsal, attending local indie shows in the DC area, or finding the best cafes that serve oat milk. She’s passionate about inclusive sex education and sustainable fashion and thinks everyone should be, too.