I got a proposition goes something like this:
Dare ya to do what you want
Dare ya to be who you will
Dare ya to cry right out loud.” — Bikini Kill, “Hey Girlfriend”
‘Moxie’ Review: Amy Poehler Introduces Feminist Thinking to a Generation That Might Not Need It, for Netflix is well-meaning and respectful, but it also seems crafted for an audience already well-versed in its messaging.
This is a delightful “coming of age” movie about the struggles of a divorced “70’s” mom, Amy Poehler, who also directed this film, and her daughter. Inspired by her mom’s rebellious past and a confident new friend, a shy teenager publishes an anonymous “zine” calling out sexism at her school.
Those “dares” sound so simple, but they’re not, particularly in high school. High school is difficult for girls, but it’s difficult for boys, too (at least girls aren’t told “girls don’t cry” from the moment they’re born.) Girls, though, have their own specific challenges navigating a conformist world, and that’s the world portrayed in “Moxie,” based on a YA novel by Jennifer Mathieu. With a talented young cast, “Moxie” takes its inspiration from the riot grrrl era of the ’90s, from Bikini Kill (the punk rock feminist band most associated with riot grrrl), and, most of all, from the riot grrrl ‘zines: self-created, self-designed, photo-copied, these ‘zines spread across the country.
In “Moxie,” a current-day teenage girl named Vivian (Hadley Robinson) ignites a raging feminist movement in her high school, after discovering a treasure trove of riot grrrl memorabilia in her mother’s trunk. Directed by Amy Poehler, “Moxie” is both an awkward act of nostalgia for ’90s activism and an attempt to push the riot grrrl legacy into the future.
High school is high school, no matter the era. There are popular kids. There are those who want to be popular. There are those who are left out. These dynamics are particularly toxic in the high school in “Moxie,” where “rankings” are published on social media every year, rankings like “Best Rack,” “Most Bangable,” etc. Vivian finds it annoying, but also doesn’t have any sense she could push back. Her cluelessness is challenged when a new girl named Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) makes waves, first by challenging the summer reading list, and then by standing up to the menacing cocky football-player bully, Mitchell Wilson (Patrick Schwarzenegger). When Lucy reports Mitchell’s harassment to the principal (a soothing-voiced Marcia Gay Harden), the principal warns Lucy not to say the word “harassed” and to just suck it up and ignore him. Basically “boys will be boys.” Vivian and her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) are not “trouble-makers” like this, but something about Lucy’s fearlessness inspires Vivian. Vivian’s mother (Amy Poehler) is a cool mom and one night Vivian discovers her mother’s punk-rock past. It’s the ‘zines that grab Vivian’s attention. She decides to put out her own and she calls it “Moxie.”
Netflix’s latest film, Moxie, follows a group of young women at a high school where a yearly list ranks them sexually and they’ve had enough of it. Inspired by the riot grrrl movement — a feminist punk movement from the 90s — an anonymous student decides to create their own zine, Moxie, to help share their frustrations.
One of the most important lines in “Moxie” comes from uptight Claudia. Vivian is frustrated by Claudia’s lack of involvement in the protests and abandons her to hang out with her new group of like-minded friends. Eventually, Claudia says to Vivian, “I do care. You just need to let me do it my way, okay?” “Moxie” allows for this point to be made, and strongly, across a diverse group of participants. Any group that demands monolithic conformity—or only includes a certain kind of person with a certain kind of outlook/background/attitude—does not deserve to call itself liberating. “Moxie” gets that.
This has a reminiscence of 80’s film “Footloose” and getting the “adults” to listen to the students. When there is a will there is a way. And for any of us growing up in those times, we knew the uphill fight, but just as the heroine of this story, the mom, found out, most of her generation had retreated to their “normal” lives. But their movement lives on in their kids and in their own hearts! Long live those who continue the movement of inclusion, equality and kindness.
It needs to be spoken out loud or the message gets lost. That is why I tell these stories. Hopefully, it leads to discussions and insights. Moxie! It’s our birthrights.
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