There’s no doubt that the American high school movie is currently in rude health, with a string of hits – including Booksmart, Eighth Grade and Love, Simon – having offered refreshing updates on the popular genre in recent years. The latest film to fit that mould is Moxie, the second feature directed by Parks and Recreation star Amy Poehler, which arrives on Netflix in early March. It’s a charming and engaging film, which explores some relevant issues without quite reaching the heights of some of the aforementioned examples.
The film centres on Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a shy teenager who decides it’s time to do something about the everyday sexism she and her classmates face at school. Inspired both by the take-no-prisoners attitude of new student Lucy and the discovery of her mother’s rebellious past, she begins a new project: publishing an underground zine that she anonymously distributes around the school. It doesn’t take long for the zine to catch on, soon forming a resistance among the young women at the school and sparking a reckoning regarding both inappropriate behaviour among the male students and the discriminatory rules of the school at large.
The film fits firmly in the American high school tradition, with most of the archetypal characters present in some form or another: the sardonic male teacher, the incompetent head, the jocks and the nerds can all be found in the supporting cast. But while it might be packed with familiar tropes, this is managed in a way that feels comfortably familiar rather than overtly clichéd, with the broadly likeable performances from the cast doing enough to keep the characters feeling three-dimensional.
There are some great moments peppered throughout the film’s runtime – Vivian’s struggle to answer a personal development question regarding “what she cares about” is an early highlight – while the numerous scenes of students from different social groups showing solidarity with one another and planning the revolution’s next steps are always enjoyable. Meanwhile, the direction from Poehler – who appears in the film herself as Vivian’s mother – is polished if unspectacular, leaning heavily on previous examples of the teen movie without trying to reinvent the wheel.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the film, though, is the relationship between the main character and her childhood best friend Claudia, played by the film’s standout performer Lauren Tsai. Claudia approaches the zine and the school’s feminist movement with slightly more reservation than most others, and at times feels she’s been neglected by Vivian’s newfound status as a revolutionary. There’s a great scene where the pair argue at Claudia’s bedroom window, with Claudia explaining how the stakes are different for her due to her Asian heritage. This provides a more thorny moment for Vivian and her movement, albeit one which is overcome by the film’s air-punch conclusion, and hints at more complex, nuanced questions for the future of the zine. If anything, it would have been nice to see a little more time devoted to this storyline, perhaps at the expense of Vivian’s more one-note relationship with male ally Seth (Nico Hiraga).
There are a couple of other issues, too. Lucy, the character whose original stand is a major starting point for the movement, is largely sidelined for the second part of the film, and would ideally have been given more to do – especially given the charismatic performance from Alycia Pascual-Peña. Meanwhile at times the script can feel like it’s trying to shoehorn in as many buzzwords as possible, which although well-intentioned can come across a little forced. And then there’s a slightly tonally jarring moment at the film’s conclusion, where an emotional revelation of a traumatic incident perhaps too quickly gives way to the altogether more celebratory mood of the film’s finale.
On the whole, though, this is a very watchable, frequently funny film which is bound to strike a chord with both teenagers and older viewers. It’s not as accomplished as the likes of Booksmart or Eight Grade – lacking the raucous humour of the former and the empathetic edge of the latter, but Moxie is a fun high school movie with a positive message and no shortage of heart.
Moxie is available on Netflix from Wednesday 3rd March – visit our Movies hub for all the latest news
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