Directed by Amy Poehler and written by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, based on the book of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu. Fed up with the sexist and toxic status quo at her high school, a shy 16-year-old finds inspiration from her mother’s rebellious past and anonymously publishes a zine that sparks a school-wide, coming-of-rage revolution. Starring: Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Alycia Pascual-Pena, Nico Hiraga, Sabrina Haskett, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sydney Park, Anjelika Washington, Josie Totah, Josephine Langford, Ike Barinholtz, Clark Gregg and Marcia Gay Harden.
For a long time, any film involving teenage girls has always been about them tearing each other down, fighting over boys and usually a large dose of bullying but Moxie finally takes a different approach. It doesn’t ignore that there’s always going to be cliques and hierarchy to high schools but it only uses that to serve a more interesting, relevant story about sexism and assault in schools. Though the message itself is much more universal, it’s about standing up for yourself, not just accepting things you know are wrong simply because it’s easy and finding things that you care about. It captures the importance of change, progress and the lessons you impart on the next generation.
The invigorating thing about Moxie is the hugely talented group of young actors that they’ve brought together. Each of them bring individual personalities to their characters, they work wonderfully together and they’re a joy to watch. Hadley Robinson takes the lead as Vivian, she’s the classic shy girl coming out of her shell, which is always satisfying to watch and this is no exception. Her performance is so easy to watch and as the centre of this story, she helps to tie everyone together brilliantly. She has great chemistry with Seth played by Nico Hiraga (Booksmart), they’re incredibly sweet and he easily brings the unbelievably kind, open qualities to his character. The same goes for her chemistry with the other girls, especially Alycia Pascual-Pena’s Lucy, watching the two bring out the better in each other and bond is perfect teen movie content. The friendship that she has with Claudia (Lauren Tsai) is much more classic of the genre but still hits the spot. There’s no weak link in this young cast, you could happily watch more features or series following this group of girls.
That’s not to say the adults of the story don’t do just as well, Amy Poehler is utterly reliable, she’s always funny and she brings that to this role while doing double duty as director. She doesn’t appear too much in the story, it’s just enough to make her presence felt and to make an impact. Ike Barinholtz again brings his usual comedy skills, as the hapless teacher who doesn’t quite know what to do or say in a politically correct world and his awkward attempts to figure it out are highly entertaining. Marcia Gay Harden is another delight, her character may be extremely flawed but her performance certainly isn’t, for such a likeable actor, she manages to effortlessly bring the selfish, judgemental and close-minded qualities to Principal Shelly.
One of the key aspects with a film like this is creating a balance; it has to be cheesy but not too cheesy, it has to be funny but not lose its sincerity and it has to send the right message, Moxie has all of that. Its comedy comes out right from the start to kick things off with a high, positive energy then it reveals its rebellious story then it digs into some more emotional elements to round it out. It’s entertaining, touching and surprisingly meaningful, it will take a couple of turns that not everyone will see coming and you’ll likely appreciate it all the more for that. It’s undeniably clear that this story will work better for some people than others but in the end, this is a film led by women with a story meant to explore the experience of being a woman and that’s what it does.
Poehler’s direction hits all the right notes, it brings that youthful energy with all the frustrations and emotions that come with being a teenager. It may not be entirely different or new compared with what we’ve seen before but it does exactly what it needs to do, in a fun, satisfying way. It could have been tightened up, there are a few scenes or transitions that go on slightly too long. It doesn’t become overly sentimental but it approaches the line with moments that may have been fixed with a less gentle edit.
Moxie is one of the rare examples of a film that from trailer to feature, it gives you exactly what you want to get out of it. It set up a story of young rebellious women, rejecting a system that treats them as inferior and it pays out in full, with an entertaining, uplifting and moving film. This is a wonderful group of young actors who are a delight to watch, and Poehler, Harden and Barinholtz are the cherries on top. It manages to impart an important, meaningful story while being fun and positive, showing how much more can be achieved when women stick together and support each other in the face of hardships. This is the type of positive, affirming story that will hopefully become more common in teen films.