Wednesday, May 21, 2014

We Are the Best!

A humanist with a rare sensitivity to the inner lives of children, Lukas Moodysson is one of the best living directors of young people, and he’s especially good with girls and young women. As he did in Lilya 4-Ever and Together, he gazes at the young people in We Are the Best! eye to eye even when they are all but invisible to those around them, capturing the awkwardness and innocent sincerity of youth without a trace of condescension or sentimentality. But, like all true humanists, he knows that loving human frailty and finding humor in it are not mutually exclusive. Even as we empathize with the protagonists of We Are the Best! we also laugh at them--and the laughter is energizing, because there’s nothing mean-spirited about it. It’s just another way of acknowledging the humanity we share with three teenage girls in 1982 Stockholm.

When we first encounter 13-year-old Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), the camera zooms in to find her in a corner at a raucous party her mother is hosting, unseen and uncomfortable. A girl with none of the attributes that usually get girls noticed (she is boyish-looking and introspective, and she rarely smiles) Bobo is constantly overlooked or marginalized. Her fierce, fast-talking, more conventionally beautiful best friend, Klara (Mira Grosin) is the sort of person you can’t help but notice when she enters a room, yet she too is an outcast, so far outside the norm, with her Mohawk and her militant anti-authoritarianism, that nobody knows quite what to make of her.

Boys their age generally ignore Bobo and Klara, their parents are so self-involved they’re virtually useless, and the aging would-be hipsters who manage the youth center where they spend their free time favor a group of older boys who hold frequent rehearsals there for their heavy metal band. But rather than being deflated by the pervasive indifference they encounter, Bobo and Klara make the most of the freedom it offers, declaring themselves punks and thumbing their noses at authority and privilege wherever they can. To fight back against the takeover of their center by the boys, they declare themselves a band, since that will allow them to book the rehearsal room and create a din of their own. The girls’ comically impulsivity is funny—neither Bobo or Klara has any idea how to play the instruments the center supplies—but you have to admire their proto-feminist spirit.

When they draw in a third member, Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), who is a gifted musician, their music gains some shape and the guitar licks improve substantially, but the band remains important mainly as a nurturing retreat, a refuge from a world that is all too ready to marginalize or pigeonhole people, especially young women. As the three girls meet to practice and hang out, they draw strength from each other, each becoming more solidly who she is even as they remain very different from one another. Hedvig, who seems painfully shy at first, turns out to be unshowily self-confident but stoically used to being underestimated, as when one of the managers of the youth center assumes she can’t play guitar and clumsily tries to show her how it’s done. If her new friends had not been by her side she might not have stuck up for herself, but they are and she does. She shuts him down simply taking back her guitar and playing the hell out of it—and they, and we, are thrilled for her.

Moodysson adapted the script from an autobiographical graphic novel by his wife, Coco, and it retains the feel of a vividly experienced and remembered slice of real life. From the exhilarating uncertainty of a date that isn’t quite a date to the messiness of getting drunk for the first time to the delicate and constantly shifting dynamics between the three girls, this is early teenage life not as it is usually shown in the movies but as it is actually lived.

Written for The L Magazine

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