Dave's Rating:


No, seriously, they ARE.

It’d be a lot cooler if my friend Sarah Jacobson were alive to see Lukas Moodysson's latest film, We Are The Best! She’d be its biggest fan. Sarah, who died much too young from cancer in 2004, was the director and extremely energetic distributor of two independent films in the 1990s: I Was a Teenage Serial Killer and Mary Jane’s Not a Virgin Anymore. She prioritized punk rock and cinema and was an evangelistic champion of 1982’s Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains, which starred very young Diane Lane and Laura Dern as girls who form their own punk band. Sarah was also the kind of person who, when asked over breakfast what her plans were for the day, would respond, “Gonna f### s### up!”

The girls at the heart of We Are The Best! are itching to do the same thing. It’s 1982 and the first wave of punk is over, but its slowly rippling cultural effect is still felt by kids too young to have participated in the outbursts of 1977. Teenage rage knows no timeline, though, which means 13 year-old friends Klara (Mira Grosin) and Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) have accumulated plenty of of reasons to go as punk as they wanna. Bored by Human League–loving classmates in their Stockholm middle school and bullied for their spiky-haired refusal to conform to adolescent beauty standards, they barge into the practice space of their local youth center, commandeer instruments they don’t know how to operate, and begin making a No Wave racket.

Looking for allies, Klara and Bobo push their shy, Christian, classical guitar-playing schoolmate Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) into joining the band. They convince her to quit praying, to get a choppy haircut, and to teach them how to really play their one and only composition, “Hate The Sport.” (They have no idea that hardcore, punk’s next iteration, is well underway in the United States or that bands like 7 Seconds have already recorded the anthemic “I Hate Sports.” But they will. And they won’t care.)

Hedvig, Bobo and Klara’s nascent career involves a kind of training-wheels posturing (“Punk is alive!” barks Klara), general snottiness, begging for money to buy guitars and then spending it on candy, relentless practice of their song, and competitive crushes on the tiny pool of locally available punk rock boys. But those boys don’t stand a chance next to the primacy of friendship and priority of being in a real band. When these proto-Riot Grrrls take the stage and screamishly assert with defiant, table-turning sarcasm, that they are “THE PRETTIEST GIRLS IN TOWN!” they’re doing it for themselves and each other. Somewhere Kathleen Hanna can hear them in her dreams.

Moodysson, working from a script based on wife Coco Moodysson’s graphic novel Never Goodnight, has an intuitive understanding of the way kids think. He frames the girls documentary-style, influenced by classic naturalist explorations of darker material, stuff like Maurice Pialat’s 1969 L’Enfance neu (Naked Childhood). Intimately shot, he respectfully details rituals of early adolescence, female friendship and family life, rather than giving his powerful young women a condescending pat on the head.

Best of all, Moodysson hasn’t forgotten the insane thrill involved in discovering and choosing an identity, and the raucous, shaggy, finished product is a blast of energy, sweetness and deep joy, the happiest and noisiest movie experience I’ve had so far this year. Ideally, it would be shown to every bored kid in the world, creating that burning need to start a band or the desire to make a cheap underground movie like my buddy Sarah -- whatever it takes to f### s### up.


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