Amy Poehler’s second directorial venture, Moxie, feels like it is trying to capture the spirit of the 2019 comedy-drama, Booksmart, but without as much humour, nuance or insight.
Based on the novel by Jennifer Mathieu by the same name, Moxie follows a dutiful, ambitious 16-year-old teenager, Vivian (Hadley Robinson), tensed about the upcoming college application essays and her place in the world, as she enters the senior year of her high school.
Meanwhile, challenging the sexist culture of the school, a new girl in the school, Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena), stands up to the chauvinistic popular football team captain, Mitchell Wilson (Patrick Schwarzenegger), on her first day in school.
In this high school, a list is circulated on social media every year that sexualises and ranks the girls in the school, awarding them demeaning titles mostly based on their appearance.
Labelled as the “most obedient” and inspired by her mother, Lisa’s (Amy Poehler), punk-feminist rebellious past, Vivian decides to protest and makes a rival list in a magazine called Moxie that highlights the issues that the girls in her high school face.
The film follows Vivian, as the anonymous author of Moxie, spearheading the feminist revolution in her school.
Hadley Robinson is mostly fantastic as Vivian. She has a lot of range. From a more introverted and sombre performance at the beginning of the film to her violent outbursts, Robinson is believable as an unsure teenager unlike the leads of most such teenage films. Unfortunately, some of her outbursts aren’t as convincing but that’s mostly due to her lack of experience.
Amy Poehler plays Vivian’s mother, Lisa, a wise and supportive single mother who used to be a punk feminist in her younger days. Her chemistry with Robinson is absolutely amazing and a treat to watch. Their endearing mother-daughter relationship is the heart of the film.
Alycia Pascual-Pena plays Lucy to a tee. She is rebellious, unafraid and ready to face the world head-on. Pena brings energy and movement to the film and is a great foil for Vivian.
Lauren Tsai plays Claudia, Vivian’s best friend. She is much more conservative and introverted than Vivian. She is not as supportive of the feminist movement in the school and is one of the most nuanced characters in the story. Unfortunately, she was severely underutilised.
Although Nico Hiraga gives a good enough performance as Seth, Vivian’s classmate and possibly the only feminist male character in their high school, his character brings nothing to the table. He just acts as the romantic interest for the lead and is the token nice guy in a feminist film.
Moxie is an inclusive film that admirably attempts to tackle several issues. It has a very diverse cast that includes people from different genders, sexualities, physical abilities and ethnicities.
Amy Poehler, who is primarily known for her stint in SNL and for playing the lead character, Leslie, in the much-beloved sitcom, Parks and Recreation, brings her experience as an actor, behind the camera. She is phenomenal in front of the camera, as usual, but as the director, she manages to bring out great performances from most characters in the film.
Moxie tries to hard to rebel. In its 111 minute run time it tries to tackle women’s issues, trans issues, immigration issues and race-related issues. As a result, it doesn’t offer an in-depth insight into any of them. Rather it skims through the issues, much like a checklist.
The problems that the protagonists of Moxie face, are cartoonishly bad. The school bully, Mitchell Wilson, is just shown to be a bad person with no nuance. Their unsupportive school principal, Shelly, is just shown to be an authority figure that likes to favour chauvinism and push everything under the rug.
Even the inciting incident of the film, the sexist listing of women, seems dated and unbelievable in this day and age. Most misogynist behaviour shown in the film is already widely considered unacceptable. Most of the audience would agree that it is wrong and in doing so the film makes the audience comfortable.
Rather than challenging the beliefs of the audience in any way which would make them reflect on their own behaviour, Moxie chooses the easy way out by making such unidentifiable and conventionally evil antagonists.
The dialogue in Moxie, like most other films about teenagers, is absolutely unrealistic.
The film uses music as a crutch. The initial use of Rebel Girl by Bikini Kill is understandable and works well for the film in establishing its desired tone. But soon the film goes overboard as it uses songs in almost every other scene to deliver the emotion.
Moxie is categorised as a comedy, but it never really goes beyond a light chuckle, once or twice during the whole film. If it was aimed to be written as a comedy, the writers clearly did not succeed at it.
Moxie is a comfortable film that doesn’t really have anything new to say. But the film has some heart and a few decent performances which make it watchable.
Also Read: The Girl on the Train review: Parineeti Chopra’s latest trainwreck