We Are the Best!
Spirited Swedish flashback gives audiences punk-rock girl power times three
We Are the Best!
Directed by Lukas Moodysson
Cast: Mira Grosin, Mira Barkhammar, Liv LeMoyne
Watching a film by Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson (Mammoth, Together, A Hole in My Heart, Lilya 4-Ever, Show Me Love) is like hanging out at a party at a stranger’s house. You don’t know anyone, and you’re just listening in on conversations trying to figure out people’s stories. Moodysson’s films have such a naturalistic, fly-on-the-wall vibe. Just like real life, you can never be sure where they’re going or what they’ll become. All you can do is sit back and see what develops.
Moodysson’s newest film, We Are the Best!, is a family affair. The screenplay is based on a comic book by autobiographical cartoonist Coco Moodysson, who just happens to be Mr. Moodysson’s wife. The film takes us on a nostalgic flashback to early-’80s Stockholm. Bored with bourgeoisie parents who are alternately clingy and distant, a trio of 13-year-old misfits find escape in punk rock music (even though all the “cool” kids say the genre is dead). Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) is our main protagonist. She’s shy, soft-spoken and has an unfortunate nascent resemblance to Harry Potter (which might have been vaguely cool if Harry Potter had been written back in 1982). Her best friend Klara (Mira Grosin) is a little spark plug. She sports a ratty mohawk and a budding political conscience. Fed up with listening to bands playing boring old rock and roll songs at their neighborhood youth center’s practice space, the girls claim to be a band and sign up for a timeslot. They have, of course, no musical skills. But since when did that ever impede the cause of punk rock? Malcolm McLaren, the Machiavellian mastermind behind the Sex Pistols had a list of rules for pulling off what he called “The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Swindle.” Among them were, “Find yourself four kids. Make sure they hate each other. Make sure they can’t play.” Whether they know it or not, Bobo and Klara are punk as fuck.
Frustrated by their inability to do much more than bang away on drums and bass, however, the girls recruit Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a classmate quite skilled at classical guitar. Hedvig is a straightlaced blonde wallflower who’s regularly bullied by classmates for her conservative Christianity. Klara is optimistic, however: “If she won’t stop being a Christian, we’ll kick her out.” But Hedvig proves to be a sweet, talented young lady in desperate need of friends. Before long the trio of besties are composing their angry gym class anthem “Hate the Sport.” Why? Because as outspoken Klara puts it, “We hate sports, and we want other people to hate them too.” The tweenage logic of it all is impeccable.
Once the band is formed, the girls spend their time arguing over who gets to play what, squabbling over boys and starting some shit. Of course their young minds spit out doubts like “I’m never gonna get a boyfriend” and “Everyone thinks I’m a freak.” But the one good thing? The unshakable, prepubescent knowledge that they’re in “the world’s greatest band.” Anyone who grew up aspiring to musical stardom (and we all did at one point) will appreciate the film’s spunky adolescent enthusiasm.
To put it simply, We Are the Best! is absolutely goddamn wonderful. It’s a lovely, funny, empathetic, exuberant, happy—but never rose-colored—portrait of how innocent teenage rebellion really is. Friendship, sisterhood and love of music are wrapped up in one infectious package. Are these girls going to be musical superstars? Doubful. But they’re well on their way to being well-adjusted, wide-eyed young ladies who don’t take crap from nobody. Amen to that.
Everything in this film feels delightfully naked and totally real. Mrs. Moodysson’s honest, youthful memories combine with Mr. Moodysson’s buoyant realism to create a film that feels almost documentary-like. The skill of the film’s young cast is unquestionable, perfectly capturing that time period when everything in life was either life-changingly wonderful or earth-shatteringly tragic. From its anarchic spirit to its scruffy soundtrack to its simple girl power message, We Are the Best! is easily one of this year’s warmest pleasures.