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Thursday, September 21, 2023

Motion picture with a pitcher: What to expect from a Terrace movie night

The Wisconsin Union Directorate (WUD) hosted a screening Monday evening of the critically acclaimed 2019 film “Booksmart,” directed by Olivia Wilde, on the iconic Memorial Union Terrace. 

“Booksmart” is the latest in the WUD Film Committee’s ongoing “Lakeside Cinema” series, which will bring a variety of crowd-pleasing films to the Memorial Union Terrace each Monday this summer.

“Booksmart” is the second film to be screened so far and the first of two films chosen to honor Pride month alongside the 1999 cult classic “But I’m A Cheerleader.” Other movies scheduled for the 2023 season include “Black Panther,” “High School Musical 2” and “The Big Lebowski.” 

I attended Monday’s screening to give you a glimpse of what to expect from summer films at the terrace.

I arrived at the Memorial Union Terrace well in advance of the “Booksmart” screening, which was a wise choice. Like most nights during the summer, the Terrace buzzed with the sounds of chatter, laughter and pitcher clatter. Though there were plenty of tables available at the Terrace, not all had a good view of the screen, and most which did had already been taken by the time I arrived. I was lucky to stake out a decent spot.

Regardless, there was an easygoing revelry to the event. Everyone was in good spirits, and most were probably drinking them too. Food and drink are within easy reach at the Union, even if on the pricier side.

The weather was superb for a day on the Terrace. Cool air rolled off the lake — which was beautiful as ever — tempering the summer heat. As the sun set, the rippling water turned to copper; a truly picturesque locale for a film screening. Belly full and lulled by the pleasant chatter of a busy Terrace, I couldn’t help but feel at ease — perfectly primed to sit back and enjoy a film.

I knew little about “Booksmart” going in, aside from the fact that it and last year’s “Don’t Worry Darling” were both directed by Olivia Wilde. I was pleasantly surprised to find the film to be quite funny and charming, even if it was yet another in a long line of coming-of-age stories. The reveal near the beginning of the movie — wherein the two overachieving leads, Amy (Beanie Feldstein) and Molly (Kaitlyn Dever), discover that their peers got into top colleges despite also partying on the weekends — was a clever and hilarious twist on a classic high school trope.

While the lake served as a picturesque movie backdrop, seeing a film at the Terrace comes with a few hiccups you won’t find at most indoor theaters. For one, the Union is not exactly an environment free of distraction. Although things quieted somewhat once the film began, the normal drone of conversation continued throughout the majority of the movie. It wasn’t too difficult to ignore, but it might become an annoyance to those who are easily distracted. 

Additionally, depending on where you sit, you might find that people are blocking your view of the screen — I myself had trouble reading the subtitles in a few scenes. 

Regardless, the picture and sound quality were quite good, and I found myself engrossed in the film anyway. The appeal of the Lakeside Cinema series isn’t that it's the perfect viewing experience, but that it combines the warmth and cheerfulness of a warm summer evening at the Union with a night at home watching a movie with friends. Perfect isn’t the point. 

It would be a lie if I said that I didn’t have a good time watching “Booksmart” at the Union this past Monday. The film wasn’t on my radar prior to the event, but I’m glad to have seen it. 

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The age of streaming has given us near-unlimited choice in what to watch. But one small pleasure which has become elusive since the days of Blockbuster is the delight of taking a chance on a film you haven’t heard of and hasn’t been hand-picked by an algorithm. 

Consider taking a chance on one of the WUD Film Committee’s Lakeside Cinema screenings, especially if they’re showing something you aren’t familiar with. Even if the film isn’t up your alley, you’re guaranteed a fun and relaxing evening on the Memorial Union Terrace.

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Noah Fellinger

Noah Fellinger is the Arts Editor for The Daily Cardinal. He has covered new film and television releases, labor issues in the performing arts, and has written analysis of the relationship between art and contemporary politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Noah_Fellinger.


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