Moxie: Amy Poehler’s high school comedy-drama is a lovely inter-generational letter

Review: A terrific young ensemble are gamely supported by older cult heroes

Hadley Robinson as Vivian in Moxie

Film Title: Moxie

Director: Amy Poehler

Starring: Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Josephine Langford, Patrick Schwarzenegger and Parsa Ghorbani

Genre: Drama

Running Time: 111 min

Fri, Mar 5, 2021, 05:00

   

Vivian (Hadley Robinson) begins a new term in high school in survival mode. Walking the corridors with her head down, hoping to avoid the attention of rival cliques, misogynist jocks and indifferent teachers, she cuts an unassuming figure, even for a 16-year-old.

Unsure of her own views yet determined to write an entrance- guaranteeing essay to Berkeley University, she asks her mother (Amy Poehler): “Hey mom, what do 16-year-olds care about?”

“When I was 16 all I cared about was smashing the patriarchy and burning it all down,” suggests mom.

That doesn’t move Vivian until her worldview is tested by the arrival of transfer student Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña), a no-nonsense, politically active teen who values The Great Gatsby but wonders why she has been assigned yet another book about a white guy. Vivian’s transformation is further enabled by her mom’s stash of 1990s Riot grrrl music and ’zines.

Lucy’s keen mind, inevitably, attracts the unwanted attention of thuggish jock hero Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger): “Why do you always have to be so difficult?” he asks when she tells him not to touch her.

Vivian strikes back against Mitchell and the hypocritical school principal (Marcia Gay Harden) with “Moxie”, a grunge-worthy self-published pamphlet that takes aim at such school-rule double standards as “no scoop necks for girls”. In
no time, the creator of Moxie is a heroine with a reach that transcends the forbidding social boundaries between the plaid-shirted girls and the cheerleaders. But will Vivian ever find the courage to take the credit?

In 2004, Amy Poehler’s sometime comedy partner Tina Fey made a splash with her timeless screenplay for Mean Girls. Moxie, Poehler’s second Netflix film following the popular comedy Wine Country, isn’t nearly so deliciously tart. Bikini Kill is heard on the soundtrack and intersectionalism featured in the banter, but Poehler’s, at heart, is a cute teen comedy-drama replete with jostling best friends and a love interest.

A terrific young ensemble are gamely supported by older cult heroes, including Ike Barinholtz and Clark Gregg. There’s revelling in misery to the strains of Lala Lala’s Destroyer. There’s a dramatic late call-out scene that feels a little jarring in a film featuring funny pirate announcements. But as a love letter from grown-up Riot grrrls to their growing-up daughters, it’s a lovely cross-generationalgesture.