Directed by: Amy Poehler
Premise: Based on the novel by Jennifer Mathieu. A high school student (Hadley Robinson) has a political awakening and begins an independent magazine to protest sexism. She inspires a feminist movement at the school and acquires a new network of friends.
What Works: The strongest aspects of Moxie are the love story and the portrait of sisterhood. Hadley Robinson plays Vivian, a young woman who becomes conscious of the sexism of everyday life and starts speaking out against it. Robinson’s performance carries much of this movie. She conveys Vivian’s political spirit but also her adolescence and Vivian’s romance with another student played by Nico Hiraga is engaging and captures the excitement of teenage love. Vivian’s other significant relationships are with her childhood friend Claudia, played by Lauren Tsai, and her new friend Lucy, played by Alycia Pascual-Peña. The film effectively dramatizes the tensions in teenage relationships as Vivian’s diverted attention strains her old friendship.
What Doesn’t: Moxie is intended to be a political picture but it has overlapping problems in both its politics and its storytelling. Narratives require characters who strive for something definable; the more tangible the goal the better. Moxie puts nothing concrete at stake. Vivian is angry with the sexism and double standards put upon women and she’s right to feel that way but her movement never mobilizes against anything specific. The protagonist and the filmmakers lash out almost randomly at various patriarchal targets. Without a discernible goal, the story fails to escalate and Moxie doesn’t feel as though it’s moving toward anything. This storytelling flaw impacts the filmmaker’s political goals. The activism of Moxie is shallow. The young activists act out counter-culturally but the film doesn’t really attack sexism in a meaningful way. That becomes especially evident at the end of the picture. The story doesn’t resolve or affirm anything beyond a vague girl power message. Most troublingly, the filmmakers entertain the issue of sexual assault in a way that is casually tossed in and actually cheapens the issue. Moxie often feels inauthentic as a portrait of contemporary high school. These young women, all teenagers, are especially woke and educated. They speak and behave more like upper level college students than high schoolers. The picture also comes across disconnected from contemporary teenage culture. The story hinges on young people making a magazine that is distributed around school; it’s unbelievable that in the age of social media teenagers would do this on paper. The film includes other incredulous details such as students bringing a bottle of champagne to a school football game. These details chip away at the film’s credibility and it comes across like a middle aged person’s idea of what teenagers are like.
DVD extras: Currently available on Netflix.
Bottom Line: Moxie is a well-intended picture and it features a likable cast. But the movie is a shallow and mostly empty political tract. It assumes a revolutionary pose but not in a way that makes a meaningful statement.
Episode: #847 (April 11, 2021)