Cast: Hadley Robinson, Amy Poehler, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Patrick Schwarzenegger
Director: Amy Poehler
Every year we watch hundreds of Hollywood films set around a typical American high school. While a large chunk of these constitute rom-coms, we see a lot of buddy comedies and coming of age stories too. However, rarely has a high school drama taken the direction of Amy Poehler’s new film Moxie.
Poehler, who also stars in the film, introduces us to a group of young girls who get tired of the rampant sexism and misogyny in their high school and decide to fight back. The film follows Vivian Carter (Robinson), a shy and introvert girl who doesn’t want to get on anyone’s ‘radar.’ She believes in putting her head down and ignoring her bullies till they walk away. However, when she sees a new student Lucy Hernandez (Pena) fight back after getting harassed by their star athlete Mitchell Wilson (Schwarzenegger), she starts to take notice of how toxic the school really is. When the annual ‘list’ is released, where the boys grade the girls according to their looks and body parts, Vivian decides to take action. Inspired by her mother (Poehler), who was a rebel at high school, she anonymously forms a Moxie club. When more young girls show solidarity, the Moxie club becomes a movement.
The film doesn’t waste much time in the set-up, we quickly see Mitchell Wilson being condescending and violent. In a way, he is misogyny personified. The Principal of the school is also complicit. In a scene where Lucy complaints about being harassed by Mitchell, she asks her not to call it ‘harassment’ or else she will have to do a lot of paperwork. She also regularly upholds double standards in the name of status quo, punishing girls for wearing tank tops, while letting the boys get away with their leering and sniggering because they ‘will be boys.’
Even when a lot of these scenes feel like they happened within a day instead of a span of time, what Moxie does is take you back to your own school. It reminds you of the times your teachers shamed you when your skirt’s length fell above your knees or when going through puberty almost felt shameful because your male classmates took the liberty of talking about your body. Hence when all the girls in the movie draw hearts and stars on their hand to show solidarity, show up to school wearing tank tops and organise a ‘walk out’ to protest a sexual assault, you want to be a part of it. There is something universal about Moxie, and even when your own experiences were different from those shown in the film, in a way they were the same.
Moxie is a film that makes you feel brave. Personally, I did not want to watch the film and dissect it. I just wanted to watch it, smile, and wish for a revolution when I was in school.
Of course the film isn’t perfect, some scenes feel a little jarring. For instance, Vivian and her crush Seth Acosta have a date night at a funeral home, and spend time listening to songs inside a casket. Is that the new cool or have we run out of meet-cutes? Because no thanks.
Steve Acosta’s story-line as a feminist ally is wonderful to look at, but we would have appreciated a date in the park too. There is also the underutilised cameo of Clark Gregg as Vivian’s mother’s boyfriend. In a couple of sequences, Vivian is extremely cruel to him because her life is ‘falling apart.’ However, we never see an arc for that storyline. It is treated as the confrontation, but the resolution is something entirely different. There is also a sexual assault plot but I feel it comes in really late in the film and is rushed to be made into an apt climax.
However, the charm of the film isn’t in the story, but how it makes you feel. It has so many wholesome sequences that make your heart full. There is a particularly refreshing scene, where the English teacher (Ike Barinholtz) reads the official statement of the school which penalises the Moxie club and then shows his palms with stars and hearts drawn, as a form of solidarity. Moxie is also extremely inclusive and talks about various issues that lie within feminism, be it immigration or disability.
Watch Moxie with your friends and prepare to be emotional. It is an important film. It might not be perfect, it might be fantastical, but it is important.