A new generation of feminist activists are born in Moxie. A powerful, prescient and joyous teen movie from the SNL/Parks and Rec alum
Moxie is the story of Vivian (Hadley Robinson), an introverted high school student questioning her own voice and place in the world as she struggles to write a college application essay. When headstrong new student Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena) transfers to her class and starts to butt heads with the cruel class jock, Vivian’s eyes are opened to the injustice and unfair treatment that girls at their school are subject to.
Inspired by her mothers (Amy Poehler) youth in the Riot Grrrl movement, Vivian starts to distribute ”Moxie,” a homemade zine drawing attention to the ill treatment of her classmates. Before she knows it, Moxie has been handed round by every girl in school, and Vivian finds herself the secret head of a new feminist movement. The supporting cast includes Marcia Gay Harden, Ike Barinholtz, Lauren Tsai, Clark Gregg and Nico Hiraga.
Let’s lay this out straight. I love Amy Poehler, I love punk music and I love a decent coming of age tale – so don’t go expecting an unbiased review, it feels like this film was basically made for me! Nevertheless, I think there’s an awful lot here to appeal to a general audience and its super fun to see a nod to the rich Riot Grrrl scene of the early 1990s brought to a new audience. It also feels very timely; the feminist, DIY, punk subculture seeing something of a revival under the growth of the Me Too movement and fourth wave feminism.
Moxie is not an out and out comedy despite what you might assume from Poehler’s involvement (if you want comedy see Olivia Wilde’s fantastic Booksmart, which is in a similar vein) but does maintain an anarchic, hopeful sense of joy throughout, even whilst getting into some of the darker problems facing the girls.
Vivian and her classmates are fighting back against issues that will be frustratingly familiar for many. A school dress code policy that discriminates against girls but doesn’t seem to care what boys wear. Bad behaviour from boys being ignored or allowed just because they happen to be star athletes. The achievements of girls sports teams being diminished whilst the boys are amplified. Moxie also makes a concerted effort to focus on intersectionality, acknowledging the shortcomings of the Riot Grrrl movement it endeavours to make space for LGBT and POC voices.
The daughter of an immigrant family is afraid to join the movement and risk disappointing her mother. A wheelchair user is treated as invisible. A trans student is made to feel unaccepted. A black student deals with microaggressions. Poehler has approached these characters with a light but purposeful touch, managing to make this group of friends feel honest and fun whilst still being representative as Vivian starts to recognise her own privilege.
”Young feminists today understand that there is no one voice or one face or one take on women’s rights, and that in order to make change and to have real conversation, you have to have all different voices in that conversation.”
I think what makes Moxie feel so fresh and joyful is that it’s a coming-of-age story centred around self-discovery rather than romance. (Because heaven knows, we’ve enough films about teen girls trying to win over some guy.) It’s a film about women lifting each other up, discovering their voices and the things they care about, and whilst there is a little nod to the Tina Fey classic, there are no stereotypical ”mean girls.”
Whilst there is a romantic subplot, the ”hot guy” is made hot by the fact that he’s a enthusiastic ally of the Moxie movement and keen to support our lead character. It also features a killer, Bikini Kill heavy soundtrack that allows its audience to be swept up in the punk enthusiasm of the new girl gang.
Whilst the story doesn’t take you to any surprising conclusions, its journey had me invested in the movement and its characters from start to finish. An introduction to activism and allyship, Moxie is at once an honest look at the feminist issues facing young women today whilst still being a young, fun, coming of age story.
Moxie releases globally on Netflix on 3rd March 2021