Patrick Schwarzenegger

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