I got to say, when I first watched the trailer for Moxie, I was pumped and invested. Teen girls sticking it to the patriarchy? Hell yeah. Additionally, Moxie is directed by Amy Poehler (she also plays the main character’s mother), and since her bestie Tina Fey wrote the screenplay for the iconic film Mean Girls, I truly thought Moxie would be in the same lane. But it isn’t. It’s not a bad movie per se – just a bit jumbled in tone and intention. It seems to be aiming for camp, but is never properly funny, and the dramatic moments never sink deep enough to make any lasting impact on the viewer.
The movie begins by drawing our attentions to little microaggressions that women have to deal with on a daily basis, and usually, most just keep their head down and sweep it under the rug of ‘boys being annoying’. But newcomer to the school Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena) makes it clear that such repetitive behaviour isn’t merely annoying, it can be dangerous if enabled and not kept in check. After a list is published on social media, which rates girls on who’s the ‘most bangable’ or who has the ‘best ass’ in the school, protagonist Vivian (Hadley Robinson) decides that she’s had enough.
Inspired by her mom’s riot grrrl days, she creates her own zine and leaves it in the girl’s bathroom. From there, the insurrection gains momentum and a group of girls, including new friend Lucy and best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai), form a group dedicated to pursuing the injustices that girls face at the school, including unfair dress codes and the lack of equality when it comes to men’s and women’s sports. However, no one knows Vivian is Moxie, a fact she prefers, since she isn’t quite the outspoken person like some of her friends.
I liked this aspect about the film, since Vivian wasn’t personally targeted, but felt moved to act when she saw others being mistreated. On the other hand, Vivian as the protagonist of the film just doesn’t work. The character is just really bland, and the scenes where she needs to go all rebel teen and bleed righteous anger doesn’t feel authentic.
The antagonist to her protagonist isn’t that great either. Patrick Schwarzenegger’s Mitchell is just too obvious in his villainy (the script doesn’t do him any favours); he also looks too old to be in high school, so it was so jarring to see him swanking around pretending to be a teen. The one character that does make an impact is Nico Hiraga’s Seth, who went from awkward boy to heartthrob teen, and it’s nice to see an Asian man as the main love interest in a teen movie, especially since he isn’t reduced to an Asian stereotype. Hiraga commanded every moment of his screen time, and did a great job of being a male ally but also assertive in his own sense of agency.
The film tries to tackle intersectional feminism, which is often overlooked in feminist narratives. Moxie looks at the experiences of a trans teen CJ (Josie Totah), girl in a wheelchair (Emily Hopper), teen girls of colour Kiera (Sydney Park) and Amaya (Anjelika Washington), and Claudia’s experience as an Asian girl versus Vivian’s white feminism. However, these girls and their stories remain but a footnote in the wider narrative of Vivian’s story, so the representation is merely superficial.
What cements Moxie’s fate as a mediocre teen flick is its ending, which is so desperate to wrap things up in a pretty little bow that it squanders all the good faith the film managed to build till that moment. Moxie had the potential to be a new kind of teen movie, to properly chart the present experience of being a Gen Z teenage girl, but instead of a war-cry, it only manages a whimper.
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For a film about a rising revolution, Moxie ironically feels a little tame in its exploration of a sexist and toxic high school culture.
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