It’s hard to do anything totally new in a crowded genre like high school films. This one has all the familiar trappings; the locker lined corridors, the lunch hall, the ornate stepped entrance, the ball game, the marching band, the raucous house party, the letterman jackets, and it even borrows narrative elements with the quiet kid finding an anonymous but influential voice from things like Pump up the Volume and TV’s Gossip Girl. In the end though doing something new is less of an issue when you can do something important. Of all of the other teen movies that are out there Moxie most reminded me of The Hate U Give because like that film this features an adolescent female protagonist who is pushed to stand up against abuse and inequality. It doesn’t quite have the power of that movie but with its focus on the prevalence of sexism and harassment it stands above a wide range of other films with the same tropes. Sure, Moxie has a lot of stuff we’ve seen before but this takes the ANGIRLS out of Mean Girls 2.
Even without this element Moxie is charming enough. It has compelling performances from a young ensemble cast including Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Alycia Pascual-Pena, Booksmart’s Nico Haraga and JFK’s great nephew Patrick Schwarzenegger. Schwarzenegger is odious as the insidiously poisonous jock and it is a bold part to take from an actor who’s family I assume must be very image conscious. At the film’s heart though is Robinson’s Vivian and the group of young women that gather when she secretly starts writing and distributing a zine that calls out the toxic masculinity in their school. While several of the characters are fairly thinly sketched they still seem believable and the female friendship between them is refreshing and authentic. Amy Poehler is the director of the movie and she also plays Vivian’s mother, whose own activist past partly inspires the uprising.
It is the message that lifts the film though. The novel it is based on debuted six years ago and would undoubtedly would have had more impact then but it is naive to think that this isn’t stuff that teenagers are still dealing with now and seeing these young people standing up to dangerous chauvinism will be necessarily inspiring, for young women and men. The story also tackles enablers at different levels and men painting themselves as the victim which are also vital things to challenge directly. Moxie isn’t a perfect film, it isn’t as subtle as it could be and there are some underrepresented groups that are included but still marginalised. What it is doing should be applauded and celebrated though. Some of the greatest feminist films of recent years; Revenge, Mustang, The Assistant, Bombshell, The Breadwinner, Battle of the Sexes, have taken on sexism endemic in cultures and large organisations, or indeed in the medium of film itself, but it still exists everywhere and the places where you assume it doesn’t, perhaps like schools, are the ones where it needs to be highlighted the most.
Today, 8th March, is International Women’s Day so this might just be tonight’s essential watch.
Moxie is on Netflix now