At one point in Netflix’s new Amy Poehler-directed movie Moxie, a group of teenage girls gather in a private room during a party to air about the dreamy boys at their school. One of them shuffles a game of cards, going up to her face.
Do you know what I just realized? The king is worth more than the queen, ”she says with the air to someone who discovers the universe’s biggest secrets. “Why? The queen is the best.”
The strangely constructed wake ants Moxie down, though it’s an otherwise sweet, empowering film about a girl who gets the confidence to stand up for herself and her peers. Poehler and the authors try to balance a wide range of topics, but do not integrate them meaningfully into the story. It does sometimes Moxie feels like a checklist of artificial social consciousness.
Based on a 2015 YA novel of the same name, Moxie follows shy high school junior Vivian (Hadley Robinson), who is increasingly tired of the sexist culture at her school. Each year, a group of popular boys, led by football captain Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger, who pulls out the charming douchebag role with almost alarming finesse) rolls out a ranking of female students, giving them derogatory titles like “Most Bangable” and “Best Rack.” ” When new student Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) dares to speak out against Mitchell, she gets blown up on the list. Filled with this attack and a Bikini Kill song that her mother (Amy Poehler) played for her at one point – Vivian pours all her anger into a zine she calls “Moxie” and patches it all over her school.
The connection between Vivian randomly remembering the lyrics to “Rebel Girl” and finding her mother’s old stash of zines, and then creating her own zine, is thin. (Especially because she actually never … talks to her mother about it.) But overall, it’s satisfying to see Vivian’s development from shy wallflower to leader, encouraged by anonymity. As more of the school – including boys – begin to capture Zine’s call to action, they pull Sharpie hearts and stars on their hands to signify solidarity. Soon, Moxie grows from an anonymous publication to a woman to a core group of students who gather for change. It’s definitely refreshing to see a wide range of girls drawn into the mix – and not just outsiders, as popular student Kaitlynn (Sabrina Haskett) and football captain Kiera (Sydney Park) are also taking part.
Some individual parts of Moxiehowever, just come out as awkward and out of place. This queen-and-king line is not the only clumsy dialogue. Lucy complains that her assigned English reading only consists of books by rich white dudes – which could have a greater impact if the first episode of Netflix Original Ginny & Georgia did not have a very similar scene that was broadcast just a few weeks ago. There are also weird framing devices at the beginning – a nightmare that Vivian does not have the opportunity to scream, as well as her eerily relevant college essay questions – that immediately disappear, only to be randomly referred to at the end of the film.
But the film’s biggest bear service is how it has all the pieces in place to really examine intersectionality and instead ultimately falls flat. At the end of the day, it’s more of a story about Vivian than about Moxie. Vivian never meaningfully agrees with the fact that she inherently benefits from privileges that her friends do not have: she is white, functional, and cisgendered. She is surrounded by a diverse cast, but these characters do not have their own agency – they are only in place to increase Moxie’s wokeness (and therefore Vivian’s). Even in places where other characters take the lead, the film sticks to Vivian’s limited view: Moxie puts Kiera against Mitchell for an athletic scholarship, but after the fallout, the focus is not on Kiera. It is on Vivian’s sadness and frustration that she takes out on other characters, such as her new boyfriend (Nico Hiraga) and her mother.
Her relationship with her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) brings this straight to the point. Unlike the other girls involved in Moxie, Claudia comes from a first-generation Chinese family – because her mother has worked tirelessly for her education, Claudia feels enormous pressure to succeed and can not risk being suspended, as Vivian can. Vivian fails to realize this, even though she and Claudia have been best friends all their lives, and she becomes more and more frustrated with Claudia for not participating in Moxie’s more rebellious activities. Claudia eventually calls Vivian out for her harsh behavior, but Vivian never offers more than a mumbled apology. By the end of the film, however, tensions have dropped.
To MoxieCredit, Vivian’s selfish attitude is eventually addressed, but it focuses specifically on how rude she is to her mother. This could be a meaningful emotional thread, except that for most of the film, their relationship is sideways, but only really ramping up at the end of emotional catharsis guilt. It’s easier to patch up a simple misunderstanding between mother and daughter – especially when Vivian was inspired by her mother’s rebellious days – than it is for the heroine to consider her own self-centeredness and make personal relationships with her friends.
Poehler and the filmmakers are penetrating Moxie with triumphant moments where the girls unite, but by trying to be more socially conscious, they do not end up doing much with their diverse cast. Overall, though, the film is certainly a net positive: full of joyful moments of victory, sweet and specific character relationships, and a unique arc of character that is mostly satisfying to watch unfold. The problem is not that Moxie plays into bad tropics – for the most part does not. It’s just that Poehler and the crew all have parts of something bigger, and they do not gather them in the ways that have the most impact.
Moxie is now streaming on Netflix.