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Monday, June 23, 2014

Review: We Are The Best!

I've gone my entire life, and I don't think there's ever been a point where I said "I really wish there was a movie about pre-teen punk rockers", but now that I've seen Lukas Moodyson's latest film We Are The Best!, I suddenly feel a giant hole in my being has been filled with exuberant joy and some of the catchiest nonsense tunes I've heard in awhile.

Moodyson's opus to early teenage angst centers on Bobo, a bespectacled young girl in early 1980's Sweden, who lives with a mother who has many gentlemen callers and has a relationship with her estranged father that can best be characterized as non-existent. She's at that prime point in adolescence where it seems as though no one understands her, which turns her to punk rock. Bobo has a kindred spirit in Klara, her mohawked young friend, of which all the other girls at school say "would be pretty if she didn't cut her hair like that". 

Everywhere they go, they feel people turning their backs to them: their fellow students, parents, older kids who tell them that punk rock is over. Everyone is telling them "no". So this duo takes matters into their own hands and using instruments available at a local youth center, decide to start a punk band. The fact that they can't actually play these instruments is wholly secondary. They even recruit a strait-laced, Christian classmate into their efforts, mainly because she can play guitar and might be able to teach them how to pull together their one song "Hate The Sport", inspired by their reticence to participate in Gym Class.

From there, it's a story of eating ice cream, spiking their hair, taking train rides to meet boys they've idolized from local punk zines and eventually, playing their first gig. It's a small tale that Moodyson has adapted from his wife, Coco's, graphic novel of the same name and it can be marked by just how genuine all of its moments are realized. When we took a look at Palo Alto earlier this year, I remarked that what set that film apart from the standard coming of age film was how it, at the time, perfectly encapsulated the high school experience in a way that I hadn't seen on film in many a year. I hate to run back on myself, but I think We Are The Best! actually nails all of those same types of moments even better. While it has its own graphic novel origins, the film actually echoes much of the comic work of Jaime Hernandez and his towering "Locas" saga in Love and Rockets, but younger and more Swedish.

At no point is there a huge blow-out between characters that requires a drawn out reconciliation or any massive personal traumas, everything that occurs within the story's almost two hour running time is very intimate, and the ages of the actresses lining up with their on-screen counterparts heightens this level of credibility. Moodyson's young cast, Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin and Liv LeMoyne, are all in or around 13 years of age which is a wonderful change of pace from the Hollywood standard of casting someone in their 20's to play a teenager. These pre-teen performers have about as much on-screen experience as they do musical talent, but that rawness works wonders on-screen, particularly where Mira Grosin's Klara is concerned. 

Moodyson himself embraces a very raw aesthetic here, particularly where the band's music is concerned. Their version of punk rock is fairly awful, but Moodyson embraces that wrinkle as well, and does nothing to put any kind of sheen on their lack of talent (barring one member). It's also worth noting that We Are The Best! does not tell a structured story, and is quite episodic in the way it parlays its story for the audience. Instead Moodyson has something slightly more thematic in mind as he delves into teenage optimism. Despite the cynical tone of Klara and punk rock in general, there a joyful verve that permeates through all of its characters. Instead of focusing on the side of punk that protests Ronald Reagan and an overbearing governmental regime (which the film does a nice job taking jabs at when a few "mall punks" show up), the script uses punk as a tool for self-expression, the kind of thing that all young men and women are really striving for.

The clarity of purpose in We Are The Best! is remarkable and portrays a filmmaker who is stunningly confident in the material he's lensing. He's right to do so, as its is amongst my favorite films of 2014 thus far. Charming, light-hearted, and whimsical, its just the kind of film we need in a dark and grimy blockbuster season.

Rating: A

Note: If you're in the Atlanta-area, We Are The Best! opens at Midtown Art Cinema on Friday 6/27.

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