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Moxie Review: An Inconsistent, Breezy But Important Take on High School Feminism

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Director: Amy Poehler

Cast: Hadley Robinson, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Lauren Tsai, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Josephine Langford, Sydney Park, Marcia Gay Harden, Ike Barinholtz, Amy Poehler

New on Netflix, Amy Poehler’s latest directorial Moxie is a likeable and semi-preachy take on teen feminism. Based on Jennifer Mathieu’s 2017 novel of the same name, this is a teenage high school film with a purpose- to call out the rampant sexism in school.

The plot follows a shy 16-year-old Vivian (played by newcomer Hadley Robinson) who lives with her single mother (Amy Poehler). A self-proclaimed introvert, she hangs out with her childhood best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai).

However, she ditches her position as an under-the-radar junior after a series of questionable and unnerving events take place. Some of these include horrendous lists that rank female classmates, bullying, and complacency from school authorities regarding harrassment and sexism.

She starts a feminist ‘zine’ (magazine) called Moxie and sparks a revolution. Inspired by her mother’s riot grrrl past (a punk feminist movement that took place in the 90s) and rock band Bikini Kill’s famous hit song Rebel Girl, she decides to anonymously call out the system that is rigged against women.

A great and much-needed concept on paper is executed fairly well by Poehler. She is smart to use a refreshing and relatable protagonist whose worries are limited to cracking the college application essay and staying low-key until she goes off to college. This happens until she realises how deeply problematic her high school is.

Most of the movie’s characters are well-executed and Poehler’s take on high school is appreciably devoid of overused tropes and stereotypes.

Despite the various cliques, the women come together for a common cause and they are quick to offer empathy for their fellow classmates. From wearing tank tops to stand against an unfair dress code and staging walk-outs in solidarity with a rape victim, this movie has a lot of highs.

The theme of female friendships is especially noteworthy. Vivian teams up spunky newcomer Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña), soccer team captain Keira (Sydney Taylor), and her faithful side-kick Amaya to show support for all the issues that plague them at school.

Their newfound bond is believable and thoroughly enjoyable. They have each other’s backs at all times and dispel the myth “that girls from different cliques do not get along in high school”.

Credits: Netflix

However, Moxie falls prey to some cliches during its 2-hour run. It uses typical and rather unconvincing fall-outs between the protagonist and her peers to steer towards a cliché climax. At points, the dialogues become too preachy and seem like sermons rather than actual conversations between characters. Passing mentions of trans identity, disability, and white privilege seem like an attempt to check boxes rather than actually address the issue.

The writers of Moxie manage to give their female characters proper arcs. Vivian’s growth from a timid science-loving girl into the unknown leader of Moxie is captured well. Her disillusionment with the system is very relatable and her relationship with the feminist and suave Seth (Nico Hiraga) is an absolute delight to watch.

Even the supporting characters are explored properly. Claudia is a feminist but her circumstances at home and her personality force her to not explicitly join Moxie’s movement. The women in Moxie are vibrant, fun, and importantly very different from one and another. This easy diversity in personalities goes a long way in making the movie stand out amongst the plethora of high school movies that have come out on Netflix recently.

However, the writers’ treatment of their male and adult characters is less appreciable. Ike Barinholtz plays the eccentric English teacher, Mr Davies. Even though most of the classroom scenes take place in his class, his role seems diminished and almost unnecessary. This is not limited to Barinholtz’s character; the other adults seem to be there only as a way to propel the plot forward thereby making them seem rather unconvincing and boring.

Similarly, the story’s antagonist Mitchell Wilson (Patrick Schwarzenegger) is a stark reminder of the popular jock whose incessant bullying and harassment are overlooked by everyone. The treatment of Wilson is right. He has no redeeming arc. He spits in people’s sodas and he inappropriately touches his visibly uncomfortable ex-girlfriend. However, he still seems one-dimensional. Even after his true colours are exposed in the penultimate scene, his punishment is underwhelming and frankly, very dissatisfying to watch.

Falling under the genre of a young adult comedy, the funny moments are few and far between. The jokes do not land as intended and the lack of consistent comedy makes the movie seem like a stretch at times. The feminist and friendship moments play out better, making a more heart-warming film rather than a funny one.

Despite its shortcomings, Moxie is an earnest and important film that has the potential to inspire young women everywhere to stand up for themselves and create a safe and non-judgemental space.

****

The Moxie review is a Silverscreen original article. It was not paid for or commissioned by anyone associated with the film. Silverscreenindia.com and its writers do not have any commercial relationship with movies that are reviewed on the site.

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