Reviewed by Drew Ninnis.
Director: Lukas Moodysson.
Screenplay: Lukas Moodysson. Comic book by Coco Moodysson.
Runtime: 102 minutes.
Cast: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne, Johan Liljemark.
Trailer: “Punk's dead. Don't you know that?”
Plot: Teenage Bobo and Klara spend their time rebelling against the spirit of the 80s, and insisting that punk isn’t dead. Mostly shunned by their more popular peers, the pair meet a kindred spirit in the highly Christian and musically talented Hedvig. The three decide to form a band together, and attempt to break into the underground world of punk within the city of Stockholm. Even as their success is mixed at best, their friendship grows stronger in this touching coming-of-age drama.
Review: Lukas Moodysson’s We Are The Best! is worth checking out. A gentle coming-of-age story featuring three teenage girls in the suburbs of Sweden in the 1980s, the script is well written and remarkably original for the genre. The performances are outstanding, and the struggles these girls confront so recognisable as to be almost painful. Most importantly though, the film – based on a comic book by Lukas’ wife, Coco Moodysson – is a victory for alternative representations of gender and women within cinema. Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig are no-one’s definition of girly, but neither are they tomboys – instead carving out a personal identity for themselves that, while leaning heavily on its punk roots, is something individual and special. It is heartwarming to see the struggle of teenagers to find a form of self-expression that doesn’t adhere to broadly held normative expectations.
Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are longstanding friends with an easy rapport, committed fans of Swedish punk music, and in an amusing open rebellion against the eighties society around them. Their parents are tolerant and loving, their classmates bemused and teasing but otherwise harmless. This adds to the charm of the story; which isn’t so much about a group of girls being picked on, but more about navigating those steady milestones of adolescence. The Moodyssons could have chosen to veer into full-blown melodrama with this slight tale, but don’t – instead focusing on how Bobo and Klara build rapport with withdrawn Hedwig (Liv LeMoyn) and quickly become indispensible to each other. Their decision to start a band is equally as slight and amusing; while playing at a local community centre, they are frustrated by the rehearsal of a band of older boys. So they sign up for the empty rehearsal spot the boys have forgotten to nominate for, and use the rules to kick them out of the rehearsal rooms. Having accomplished their primary purpose, Klara and Bobo are distracted by the instruments and mockingly mess around them while composing lyrics complaining about their sport classes. To create even further disruption, they decide to rehearse for a school talent contest coming up.
In an indication of just how quietly smart this script is, a wise but curmudgeonly teacher intervenes – guessing their disruptive intent – and they don’t play at the big concert at all. But they do see musically talented Hedwig, and become determined to recruit her for their band. What unfolds is best left to the pleasures of viewing, and there are a lot of them here. A particular highlight is the deft way Moodysson evokes their family environments – not perfect, like everyone’s, but loving and funny and interesting. As always, other people’s families are always more fun than your own and this is reflected in the film. Klara’s father and brother make an amusing appearance with a clarinet and little keyboard, absolutely unable to play but cheekily wanting to jam with an embarrassed Klara.
Ultimately what the film accomplishes can be summed up like this – a small bit of progress in representing different perspectives, and a heart-warming story without being too clichéd. It is an impressive accomplishment from Lukas and Coco Moodysson; I’m looking forward to checking out more of their work.
Rating: Four Stars.