Wednesday, February 18, 2015

We Are the Best! Movie Review

Swedish director Lukas Moodysson went a little dark after his light and free-wheeling feature debut Together, one of my favorite movies from 2001. He came back last year with We Are the Best, another film similar in tone and just as light on its feet. It’s amazing to see a director as comfortable dealing with high energy electrifying characters as he is with moody depression. In his latest he tells an adorable story, adapted from his wife Coco’s comic book about three young girls in Stockholm in the early eighties trying to stand out as punks. The punk movement was on its way out by then and of course girls weren’t supposed to care. But Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and her best friend Klara (Mira Grosin) are the school’s outliers, two kids who spike their short hair and dress alternatively. And they catch hell for it from their peers.

The girls sort of fall accidentally into becoming a punk band. While hanging out in a venue that has a rehearsal space they are annoyed by the rock band playing loudly and, after exploiting a loophole in the venue’s rules, get to use the space. They know nothing of songwriting, chord progressions, or harmony, let alone how to even play an instrument, but that doesn’t stop them. After al, they know from listening to punk music that lyrically you just have to find something you’re angry about and vent your frustration. So as inspiration they use their physical education class to start a song called “Hate the Sport.” Bobo bangs away incoherently on the drums while Klara plays the bass. At their school’s talent show they realize that the dowdy and proper girl who gets booed playing classical guitar is a perfect addition to their band. Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) is an outsider too. She has no friends because she doesn’t live anywhere close to the edge. But Bobo and Klara need someone who can teach them something about music.

The music and the punk lifestyle are beside the point. This is truly a coming-of-age story about three girls who find commonalities among each other. Ultimately they struggle with the same issues every other kid does. You may not recognize yourself in the way they dress, ear their hair, or express opinions, but the things that affect them are universal. They are looking for acceptance, even if what they do is outside the mainstream. They have a burgeoning interest in boys and go all together to a Stockholm suburb to meet up with a boy punk band. From magazine photos they girls have decided ahead of time who will pair up with whom. Budding romance might be a bit too advanced a way to describe what’s going on here. It’s more like budding exploration and curiosity. It’s that time of youth when putting your arm around a girl is a big step and a kiss on the cheek is a gesture of devotion and promise. But simple as these feelings and actions are by grown-up standards, they don’t come without jealousy that can seem overwhelming.

The girls also deal with family lives that probably feel awful to them, but are comparatively tame. Bobo is the only child of a single mother who is too busy looking for new boyfriends to eve notice when her daughter is at home or out of the house. Klara has an embarrassing father who barges in tooting his clarinet when the girls are practicing. Hedvig comes from a deeply religious Christian household that probably seems somewhat alien to other kids. And she knows it.

The band and the music become an outlet for the girls to assert some self-control and to find each other’s friendship. They get to cut loose and throw it in everyone’s face so that when they are invited to play a small concert on New Year’s Eve and are abused and hissed at by the audience, they turn the target of their venom from sport to the people insulting them. And they do it together and gleefully and proudly until they can finally shout without any hesitation in believing that they are the best.

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