Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Movie Review: We Are the Best

We Are the Best
Directed by: Lukas Moodysson.
Written by: Lukas Moodysson based on the comic book by Coco Moodysson.
Starring: Mira Barkhammar (Bobo), Mira Grosin (Klara), Liv LeMoyne (Hedvig), Johan Liljemark (Kenneth), Mattias Wiberg (Roger), Jonathan Salomonsson (Elis), Alvin Strollo (Mackan), Anna Rydgren (Bobos mamma), Peter Eriksson (Bobos papa), Charlie Falk (Linus), Lena Carlsson (Klaras mamma), David Dencik (Klaras papa), Ann-Sofie Rase (Hedvigs mamma).

Lukas Moodysson’s debut feature – Show Me Love (aka Fucking Amal, 1998)  is one of the best coming of age dramas I have ever seen – a tender, honest portrait of female friendship, which turns into romance. His follow-up, Together (2000) is about a family living in a commune in the 1970s, which again, was more touching and honest than that brief description leads you to believe. Lilya 4-Ever (2002) took shocking subject – the underground sex trade – and didn’t make an exploitation movie out of it, but again something strangely touching. After those three films, he looked like he was going to become one of the new darlings of European art cinema. But the 12 years since, haven’t really shown that – A Hole in My Heart was an ill-advised movie about an amateur porn shoot. Container (2006 – unseen by me) didn’t really win much accolades. Mammoth (2009) was his venture into America – with stars like Gael Garcia Bernal and Michelle Williams – that felt like second tier Alejandro González Iñárritu. His latest film, We Are the Best, then comes as a relief – it’s his best film in years, and he’s made it by going back to the types of films he made in the beginning of his career – which feels like his more natural mode. It isn’t an overly ambitious film – it is largely plotless, and doesn’t have any real point to make – but it’s a pure and simple joy to behold. Sometimes movies come along at just the right time – and after seeing one CGI blockbuster after another in the past ,this simple story of three young teenager girls in Sweden in the early 1980s, their punk band and their simple friendship felt like a breath of fresh air.

In the film’s first scene, we see the two main characters – Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) sitting at a table in the library with two other girls – and the contrast is striking. Klara has a Mohawk, and Bobo has cut her so short that it almost makes her look like a boy. On the other side is two “girly girls”, dressed in pink, with long blonde hair who tell Klara it’s a “shame, because you could be real cute if you didn’t have that haircut” and also “don’t you know, punk is dead”. All Klara and Bobo can do is roll their eyes, and storm out. To them, punk is alive and well. The pair of girls will eventually decide to start their own band – and write their own song (Hate the Sport) – despite the obvious handicap of their having no idea how to play instruments. At the fall concert, they’ll see Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) – a Christian who has no friends, but can play the guitar brilliantly. Too bad she’s play “classical garbage” – and is a Christian. But maybe they can turn her away from God, and then she’d be cool enough to play with them. And hey, since she can play, maybe she can teach them as well.

Not much happens in We Are the Best – it’s basically the three girls hanging out, and acting like 13 year old girls – which means a lot of playful giggling, talking about boys and how clueless their parents are (refreshingly, the parents in We Are the Best actually seem like pretty cool parents – especially Klara’s – although as we all know, no matter what kind of parent you are, your teenager will think you’re hopeless). The third act introduces a couple of boys – from another school in the suburbs - who also have a punk band – which will inject a little bit more drama, as Bobo and Klara have their eyes on the same one.

We Are the Best doesn’t need much in the way of plot though – it’s interesting enough just hanging out with these three girls – who all have distinct personalities, and are brought to life in a trio of fine performances. The film gets their relationship just right – and is refreshing in the way it sees teenagers. You are never as close to anyone as you are to your best friends when you’re 13 – when your whole life is ahead of you, yet you’re still kind of powerless to do anything. We Are the Best remembers this time better than most movies of its ilk does.

The pleasures of We Are the Best are relatively minor – but they are still very much real. The film has modest ambitions, but achieves them all. In a summer where every week it seems like another city has to be destroyed, where one superhero after another has to save the world, I enjoyed watching We Are the Best more than any of them. It’s a downright charming little film.

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