Movie #88 2021: Moxie (2021)

Remember when Saturday Night Live and Parks & Recreation legend Amy Poehler directed a movie called ‘Wine Country’ and everyone pretty much slated it because it wasn’t funny enough? I do. And that’s why I’ve never seen her directorial debut. Poehler is a funny, funny woman, and I can’t bear it when my favourite comedians do something unintentionally comedy-less. However, I’m happy to report that her new Netflix movie Moxie was a lovely surprise!

Moxie is a feminist teen romp adapted from Jennifer Mathieu’s 2017 novel of the same name. Primarily, it follows Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a shy, average teenage girl who is voted “Most Obedient” by the dirtbag jocks at her school. It’s not only Vivian who has been labelled, however. Most of the girls in her class have been given several sexist tags to do with their looks, their personalities, and how likely they are to sleep with any of the boys. For once in her life, Vivian steps up to the plate. Inspired by her mother’s (played by director Amy Poehler) riot grrrl past, she creates ‘Moxie’: a feminist zine that she distributes anonymously throughout the school as a call to order girls (and some guys) to rise up and fight the patriarchy.

I’ve seen some criticism of Moxie that calls this “bad writing”. Whole-heartedly disagree. This movie was entertaining AF. So maybe it could have done with a little tweaking – going straight from a novel to a screenplay can’t be easy – here and there. Despite that, many of the criticisms seem to centre around the fact that the most boring, plain character is at the helm here. It’s clear that the scriptwriters were simply translating what was written in the novel onto the screen, and without the focus on Vivian, it would have hardly been a book-adaptation at all. I’m not sure you can blame the writers for that. I will admit though, if this story had been told through the eyes of Lucy (played by Alycia Pascual-Peña, a.k.a. The most interesting character in the movie) it would have been a hell of a lot more fun. Again though, it wouldn’t be an adaptation of the book, and it’s more than likely that Netflix acquired the rights to it on the grounds that the majority of the story would remain the same.

There was something about this coming-of-age socialist tale that was formulaic and familiar but at the same time completely refreshing. For once, a teen movie that focuses less on a heterosexual young adult relationship and more on what young girls really care about: feminism. Of course there are one or two romantic storylines in there, but when it comes down to it, it’s about these girls finding themselves and learning what it means to be a strong woman.

Sure, some of the things it preaches are watered down and a little basic but you know what? Sometimes people do not have a single clue about any of the issues raised here, and it’s a pretty educational and often genuinely funny way to introduce these ideas to an audience. If nothing else, it’s a pretty good “A Beginner’s Guide to Feminism” if you ask me. Put simply: it’s pretty harmless fun, even if the inclusivity on show doesn’t stretch to giving many of the minority characters enough to do.

Storyline choices aside, the cast do a pretty great job here, and it’s inherently obvious that they all had an utter blast filming. Amy Poehler plays the actual “cool Mom” and I’m glad to see her back on form because most of the funny moments came thanks to her. (Petition to make her wear a Sleater-Kinney shirt in every movie from now on?) As the wonderfully refreshing Seth, I’m now obsessed with Nico Hiraga with thanks to Moxie. The previously mentioned Alycia Pascual-Peña is a star in the making. Lauren Tsai is a potential comedy genius. There was only question mark out of the bunch for me: I’m sure Patrick Schwarzenegger is a nice guy in real life but he was the weak link in this cast.

In terms of technical filmmaking, there was nothing out of the ordinary with Moxie. However, Poehler did a brilliant job with many aspects such as the banging soundtrack, translating what was clearly super fun to film onto the screen, and many cute continuity details. 

Disappointingly, it’s abundantly clear that issues surrounding racism weren’t focused on heavily enough, but the inclusivity is wonderful (look at Mean Girls in comparison, which has a grand total of two non-white actors on the main cast list who have very little time on screen, and a sole gay character…)

I had some good fun with this one and you may well too if you simply remember one thing: it’s a movie for teenage girls. This is not a Masters’ Degree in Applied Gender Studies.

Moxie is available to stream on Netflix in the UK.

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