Amy Poehler

Moxie

26/03/21

Netflix

Let’s not waste time getting to the point. Here it is: I love Moxie.

Amy Poehler’s second directorial effort tells the tale of Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a sixteen-year-old high school student, who rarely raises her head above the parapet. She’s painstakingly ordinary: quiet but not distressingly so; bright but not a star student; she has friends but isn’t ‘popular.’ When it comes to filling in her university application, her personal statement proves a stumbling block. Because – like countless others – Vivian hasn’t got a ‘thing’: she isn’t on the soccer team, she’s not a cheerleader; she doesn’t act, dance or play chess; she hasn’t got a passion for astronomy or baking; she doesn’t have any burning ambition or sense of what she wants to do. She’s just a kid, muddling through, worried that she’s not good enough.

Although we’re never told exactly where Rockport High School is, there’s a definite sense of small-town claustrophobia. The students have all known each other since kindergarten, and their roles are long-established. Of course, there are some surprises, such as Seth the Shrimp (Nico Hiraga) suddenly appearing a lot less shrimpish after a summer growth spurt, but there’s a general acceptance of how things are. It’s how they’ve always been, right?

But then newcomer Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) shows up, and views her classmates with fresh eyes. She can see that Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger) isn’t just annoying; he’s an entitled bully. When she calls him out, she’s urged to let it go: Principal Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden) tells her to grow a thicker skin, and Vivian offers her advice on how to fly under his radar. But Lucy isn’t prepared to indulge Mitchell. She stands up to him, even though it makes her a target.

Vivian is inspired.

And so Moxie is born: an anonymous fanzine; a call to arms. Vivian starts small, urging girls to decorate their hands with hearts and stars in a gesture of solidarity, but the movement soon snowballs, threatening the core of the establishment.

As I said, I love Moxie. Although it’s billed as a teen comedy, I think it’s more of a drama, albeit with some funny bits. I’ve seen it unfavourably compared to Booksmart or Eighth Grade, but these comparisons seem to me to miss the point. I love those films too, but they’re primarily coming-of-age stories. As is Moxie, but that’s not it’s main function. Instead, it’s a clear answer to the question, ‘But what can I do?’

Okay, so it’s not subtle. What we have here is a stark depiction of what toxic masculinity is: the dreadful impact it has, how it’s enabled, and how it might be challenged. If I had a teenage daughter, I’d want her to watch this. In these polarising times, it’s good to see something that focuses on connections – on what unites us rather than divides us. So yes, there’s a visible effort to tick all the boxes here – it’s done in plain sight. Vivian learns from her mum, Lisa (Poehler)’s mistakes. ‘We weren’t intersectional enough,’ Lisa says of her own activist past. The film acknowledges that white, middle-class Vivian’s isn’t the only voice that should be heard; everyone’s experience is different. Her best friend, Claudia (Lauren Tsai) is exasperated as she tells Vivian why an immigrant might find it harder to draw attention to herself, for example. We hear from black girls, Asian girls, ‘popular’ girls, quiet girls, sporty girls, disabled girls, clever girls, straight girls, queer girls, non-binaries and ally boys. Because representation and inclusion matter if we’re to forge change and build a fairer, better society.

The Mitchells of this world (the Trumps, the Johnsons) believe in their right to win – and they often do. The odds are stacked in their favour. But we can change that, one Sharpie heart at a time.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Inside Out

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28/07/15

Viewers of a certain vintage may retain fond memories of The Numskulls – a weekly story in The Beano which featured the inside of a young boy’s head and the cartoon creatures that operated his moods, emotions and functions. The similarities are probably coincidental, but with Inside Out, it’s as though the team at Pixar took that same basic premise and elevated it to levels of sophistication that The Beano could only dream of.

Most of the action takes place inside the emotional world of a young girl called Riley, who has recently been uprooted from her home in Minnesota to live in an unfamiliar new house in San Francisco. The dominant force in her world up to this point has been Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) but as Riley’s comfortable existence is rocked by unforeseen problems, the other resident emotions – Sadness, Anger, Disgust and Fear start to exert their influences too. Writer/directors Pete Docter and Ronaldo Del Carmen have created a complex internal world where everything depends on the different emotions working together as a team. Joy is convinced that in order for Riley to be truly happy, her influence must dominate proceedings. When Sadness (Phyllis Smith) attempts to be involved, the equilibrium is upset and Riley’s world appears to be in danger of coming apart at the scenes. Joy and Sadness now have to team up in order to put her back on an even keel.

Pixar have always been brilliant at creating films that are as appealing to adults as they are to children and after a recent run of disappointments (Cars 2 anyone?) it’s great to see them back at the top of their game. Indeed, Inside Out is so sophisticated you can’t help suspecting that the adults get by far the better deal here; where else would you find a kid’s animation that gleefully references Roman Polanski’s Chinatown? Don’t get me wrong, the film is surely big enough and shiny enough to keep the younger members of the audience happy, but they’ll be missing so many sly in-jokes and observations that can really only be fully appreciated once maturity has kicked in.

Suffice to say that this is delightfully inventive stuff that never loses pace or its unerring sense of direction, and there’s a conclusion here that will wring real tears from all but the stone-hearted. When Pixar was purchased by the Disney organisation, there was much dark speculation that it would find itself neutered by the House of Mouse, so it’s heartening to report that Inside Out steers well clear of the usual ‘quest for happiness’ ending and opts instead for something a tad more realistic. Don’t miss this one – and whatever you do, don’t feel that you need to have a child in tow in order to enjoy it. This film would give Sigmund Freud a run for his money.

Don’t be in too much of a hurry to vacate your seats either. In the usual Pixar tradition, there’s an end credit reel that provides some of the film’s funniest moments.

5 stars

Philip Caveney