Dir: Amy Poehler. Starring: Hadley Robinson, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Josephine Langford, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Lauren Tsai. 15, 111 mins
Amy Poehler has spent her career rejecting comedy’s inclination towards cynicism and spite. It’s her aim to uplift and to inspire: from her part-memoir, part-life manual Yes, Please to Parks and Recreation’s Leslie Knope – the rare sitcom lead who could genuinely be considered aspirational. Moxie, Poehler’s second film as a director, serves as the culmination of all this work. It’s a high-school comedy that dares to hope, without ever being guilty of naivete. And that feels kind of radical.
Adapted from Jennifer Mathieu’s 2017 novel, and billed as a “coming-of-rage” story, Moxie frames a teenage girl’s feminist awakening as both an act of personal empowerment and an initiation into a wider conversation. It’s a much-needed rebuttal to the trend of commodified feminist thinking, where the focus remains purely on personal gain (buy these yoga pants and defeat the patriarchy with a toned butt).
In Poehler’s eyes, and those of screenwriters Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, a feminist’s journey is forever shifting and expanding. Vivian (Hadley Robinson) finds herself one day rifling through her mother’s (Amy Poehler) old suitcase of Riot Grrrl gear, having been inspired by the lyrics of Bikini Kill’s “Rebel Girl” and the arrival of a new student. Alycia Pascual-Peña’s Lucy isn’t afraid to point out the insidious culture that’s taken root in their school. It’s the norm here to rank girls based on who’s the “most bangable” and who has the “best ass”. Sexual harassment and objectification are brushed off as boyish pranks.
Vivian has the idea to produce, print, and anonymously distribute a feminist fanzine called Moxie. It quickly snowballs into a miniature uprising that transcends all cliques and friendship groups. Poehler’s cast work in perfect harmony with each other – their performances are broad and charming enough to give Moxie the feel of a classic high-school comedy, without sacrificing relatability. Black, trans, and disabled women’s perspectives are allowed to mesh naturally together.
Most importantly, Vivian isn’t given an easy route to victory. She’s fallible and deeply myopic when it comes to certain issues – her ideas of rebellion, for example, are shaped by the relative privilege she’s afforded. It’s not quite the same for her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai), who always has in mind the sacrifices of her immigrant parents. It’s this sense of inclusivity and understanding that makes Moxie’s emotional beats hit harder, especially when placed in the wider context of the #MeToo movement, which creeps into the film via the occasional TV broadcast.
The pain that washes across these girls’s faces when they’re forced to watch their harassers succeed feels devastatingly familiar. As does the way certain boys weaponise that anger by telling their classmates: “Who will they go after next? Because it could be you.” Poehler’s film treasures solidarity – not only does it create deep friendships, but it gives these characters space to express themselves and be vulnerable. Moxie, both smart and sweet, offers the blueprint for a revolution.