- Katie Bell
I'm just going to come out and say it. Moxie is well worth a watch. It's got feels, it's got fun, and hell, it's got moxie! (That's an in-joke, you'll have to watch Moxie to get it).
The film opens with a young woman running through the woods. She's afraid. You're afraid for her. She's glancing behind her, as though she's being chased. Then she opens her mouth in a scream, but no sound is heard. Suddenly you realise that you're watching someone's dream. Or nightmare rather. It's a dream we've all had...I think...Is it? It's a dream I've had... At the very least, there is an instant familiarity. You understand and can empathise with the feeling. And it's clever, because in thirty seconds, or one scene, Amy Poehler has successfully summarised and communicated the film's central theme.
And then our protagonist, Vivian (Hadley Robinson), wakes up. She goes to school. She meets up with her best friend, Claudia (Lauren Tsai) and they reminisce about playing Mario Kart all summer. There is one thing that's changed at their school since the break: a new student, Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena), has arrived and she's standing up to the patriarchy! It's at this point that it becomes evident that Vivian isn't just waking up from an uncomfortable dream, she's waking up to her own reality. It's true that Moxie very overtly portrays the sexism and misogyny that surrounds Vivian. Ordinarily, I might find this explicit approach to be frustrating, but in this instance, it's as though these issues have been around Vivian her whole life, but her introduction to Lucy has really brought them to the forefront of her mind. Kind of like when you are introduced to something new, and then you see that new thing everywhere.... That's how it felt anyway. Vivian apologises to Lucy for the way she is treated by a boy at school, and advises her to ignore him. Lucy immediately responds by saying, "Why should I have to ignore him? Why shouldn't he stop being a d**k?". Mic drop. Suddenly Vivian realises that she shouldn't be ignoring these behaviours, and chooses to take a more active approach. And thus the Moxie zine is born.
Obviously, this film is about sexism, it's about misogyny and it's about feminism. However, when I was watching it, I actually felt like more than anything else, this film is about empowering it's young target audience. Yes, sexism is explicitly portrayed, however our protagonist and the characters around her, aren't helpless. Vivian starts the zine, and joins the Moxie club that is formed as a result, at her school. They protest the mistreatment of women and even though they aren't heard initially, eventually they are. We also have a love interest in Seth (Nico Hiraga), who encourages Vivian in her crusade but also supports her by participating in the Moxie protests. The inclusion of Seth's character is potentially empowering to male audience members as well, in that it really clearly demonstrates that females aren't solely responsible for resolving female issues. It's appropriate and encouraged for men to say, "Yeah, I agree". We also have empowerment through Vivian's mother, Lisa (Amy Poehler), who has her own history of protesting, but also leads by example in terms of just being strong and standing up for herself in all facets of her life. Essentially, this communicates to audiences that Vivian has grown up with strong role models, and Lisa demonstrates her strength in both large and small ways. Perhaps my favourite example of Lisa's strength is when at the supermarket, a male employee offers to pack her bags. Lisa very politely rejects his help and says that she can do it herself, before he mansplains to her that she should put the eggs on top. Poehler is perfect in this role; Lisa's response is a polite, yet funny shut down. It creates humour whilst highlighting the character's strength and communicating the film's central message. Vivian is party to this interaction, and it's good for her, and it's likely good for young viewers as well.
Moxie (2021) doesn't just focus on the treatment of women, it also addresses a variety of other themes. Lisa seems to have a very keen interest in supporting local farmers. She buys far too many cucumbers, advocates for the drinking of milk on more than one occasion and has some very prominently displayed cage free eggs in her shopping cart...despite the fact that this isn't at all practical and in all likelihood would have catastrophic consequences in real life. The film comments on race and the cultural sensitivity of the teenagers in this town...or lack thereof. Most importantly, this film reminds us that those who are in power, don't always have the best advice or react in the most appropriate of ways. The school's principal, Marlene Shelly, has a Principal of the Year award prominently displayed on her desk. In theory, she should live up to the trophy that she's been awarded. However, when confronted with the prospect that her "star" football player is harassing the females at her school, she reacts by gaslighting the student who tries to report such behaviours, and then bribes them to remain silent by offering them a place in the marching band? I mean, really? This messaging is important and relevant in 2021. It's easy to draw correlations between such a message and current political events. In Australia, it's impossible not to consider the experiences of women like Brittany Higgins when watching this scene (or other scenes from the film)... Wow...this review just got very serious...and Inconceivable! Reviews is supposed to create comedic content. My bad.
The final reason why I found this film to be very enjoyable, is that the characters seem real. So often when I watch a teen film, particularly one that's set in an American high school, the characters feel like clichés or caricatures or stereotypes. There was a genuine quality to the characters in this film. I believed it. There is a beautiful moment,-that I won't spoil- where Vivian let's all her troubles loose on her mum and it just feels right. It's a vomit of information, and then underneath it all there's this truth revealed and it just feels like a real teenager, spewing real feelings in a way that feels real. The only part that was somewhat unbelievable, was the amount of freedom Vivian had. She cycled around the neighbourhood on her own in the evening, and was picked up by a boy and driven around without her Mum knowing...But then I remembered, Lisa is a cool Mum...so that probably answers those questions.
Give this one a watch. Watch it with a young person. They might just enjoy it, and it might even open their eyes to some of their own realities. Moxie (2021) is available on Netflix.