The main face of Saturday Night Live, comedian Amy Poehler took the stage as producer and director, founding her company in 2002. Paper Kite Productions was primarily behind the series Russian Doll and Broad City, as well as her first film as a director, Weekends in Napa, was already in Netflix. Make way for her second essay: Moxie, adapted from Jennifer Mathieu’s book, about a teenage girl (Hadley Robinson) who creates a feminist protest movement in her high school.
You who entered here, gave up all hope of escaping the teen movie code. In Moxie, there is a teenage girl who finds her voice and her voice, and goes from a shy little thing to an unexpected little warrior; there is his best friend from childhood, with whom things will become difficult on the road to emancipation; there are also newcomers, who sow the seeds of renewal. Loosely, there’s also the irresistible quarterback, the fake and genuinely good nerds, the embarrassingly half-serious mom, and the unavoidable dance and music.
Moxie isn’t reinventing anything in this genre, but it’s almost a teen movie spec. Adapted from the eponymous book by Jennifer Mathieu, the screenplay by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer advances on the convenient (and entertaining) rails of teen film, with all the steps one would expect. The spark here bears the name of feminism, which serves as a double tone of intent: it is the common thread of the story, and the identity of the project carried out by a very feminine team (director, producer, screenwriter, actress, technical team). Vivian’s on-screen battles resonate with artists in Hollywood for visibility, equality and opportunity.
And if that sounds a little wrong on paper, it’s because Moxie tripped over the slightly too nice and easy modernity rug. A battle then begins: on the one hand, the charm of the characters and players, and the effectiveness of the story; on the other hand, the writing is not very smooth, even very clunky, which spoils everything.
Sexism, racism, transphobia, harassment, rape… Moxie didn’t quite succeed, and it piled up all the major social problems in recent years. Deeply anchored in the contemporary world, the scenario sweeps away the potentially liberating repercussions of social networks, the dangerous stupidity of body shaming, or the inability of institutions to manage this mess – particularly with a principal and a professor, embodied by Marcia Gay Harden and Ike Barinholtz as hilarious comedians. .
The gulf between teens and adults is central to the equation, but it’s still treated on the surface, reduced to a few scenes with Amy Poehler’s own mother. And this is Moxie’s big limit: her tendency to fly above everything and everyone, even if that means resembling the modern world’s small, pocket-sized manual. The treatment of minorities is symptomatic, with one African American, one Asian, one disabled person and one transgender teenager in the gang.
The talent of the actresses is not in question (especially Alycia Pascual-Peña and Lauren Tsai), but the screenplay gives them so little to exist that they often remain extras, reduced to a few sentences and situations, with characterization without finesse. You only have to look at the nightmare scene, and its final echo, to see how much of an idea is staged.
The mechanics bogged down more than ever on the stretch of the house, as a small revolution took shape. There, as the students rose and shook the high school hallway, the film disappeared behind an overwhelming tone of intent. No more emotions, no more characters, no more magic, but machines, which are more clunky. It’s even more embarrassing that this last section deals with the film’s most serious subjects, delivered in disembodied scenes and bordering on silliness, the errors of a writing more than surface. Or how to miss the target, but big and interesting throughout the film.
That’s why Moxie runs on only one thing: the sweet, regressive little charm of teen movies, with her high school bestiary and her famous tricks. As long as you’re sensitive to it, it’s enough to let yourself be carried away by the adventures of Vivian, played by Hadley Robinson. The actress brings all the energy, fluency and strength required by the role. The best times are with him, in majesty as in doubt. And it’s no surprise with casting that Amy Poehler forced a great look, specifically Nico Hiraga’s choice for the “boy” role.
Another important point: once, the stakes are not being pretty or popular. The point is not to find a boyfriend for prom, but to find yourself. Thus, it is not trivial if the emphasis is not placed onthere is female rivalry, a major element of the teen movie cocktail. Here, the war is played elsewhere.
Basically, Moxie is more about teen movies themselves than about feminism. Breakfast Club , Fatal Games , Clueless , Dangereuse Alliance , Nowhere , The Faculty , Jawbreaker , Elle est trop bien , American Pie , Lolita though moi (with Amy Poehler), SuperGrave , Eighth Grade… it’s a protean genre, endlessly repeated and digested by time. Relationships with sex, with bodies, with gender, with other people, with politics, develop in a mirror image with the world. Beautiful love, Simon and Booksmart are great recent examples, by (finally) providing a real, simple and fair place for gay characters.
Moxie may be too aware of her own nature to achieve her goals. With a desire to fully embrace the evil of its time, the team forgoes the seduction stage – and therefore, emotions. What to evaluate further is Bliss, the first film directed by Drew Barrymore on a roller derby (also with Marcia Gay Harden), which stirs up similar themes with far more tenderness and sensitivity.