Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Sun Jun 08, 2014 10:15 am 
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In character

Perhaps I'm suggestible. But it does seem an "adorable trifle," as D'Angelo said in his cryptic on-the-spot Toronto tweet last year about We Are the Best! by Lucas Moodysson (Together, Lilya 4-Ever): "Are you. Are you the best. Or are you an adorable trifle." Despite the doubt this suggests, he gave it a 64. This put it in his top ten for the festival. It doesn't take a lot of head-scratching to see why. This movie jumps into the world of three early Eighties Stockholm teen girls without ceremony, almost with glee. Immediately we're hanging out with two of them, fast friends, energetic misfits. Right away, coiffure and fashion: they close-crop their hair and wear their own clothes, scarves, mismatched charity shop items. Their look makes the conventional "pretty" girls of the day look dated. People say punk is dead? They're wrong! They pull in the pretty blonde Hedwig (Liv LeMoyne) after the've "started" a punk band, forcing their way into a community center rehearsal space that has a drum set. They have a song, or the start of one, a mockery of school. They know nothing about music, but a lot about shouting defiant rhymes and striking poses -- and Hedvig plays guitar well, despite having no friends. Her having no friends makes her need Bobo (Mira Markhammar), who needs Klara (Mira Grosin), because Klara is the most confident one. Bobo is stubborn and touching, but uncertain with boys, considering herself plain (with round wire-framed glasses to underline this). Bobo's sadness when the girls meet up with two punk band boys and the boys pair off with Klara and Hedvig is the most touching moment of the movie.

We Are the Best! is partly about the mod swings and neediness of teens but mostly about getting into character. Gaming school politics requires misfits to have a cool pose. Bobo and Klara don't like phys. ed. so they make up a song about hating sport. They are making themselves up as they go along. Moodysson is making up the movie as he goes along, or at least it feels that way, the larky looseness adding much to the fun of what is really a delight to watch. Truly, the action is unimportant. Things do happen, but this is not going to end like Linklater's enjoyable but chichéd School of Rock in some kind of conventional come-from-behind triumph in competition; it does not matter how the movie ends. Indeed the "competition," the "away" concert, is in a provincial burg and the girls make fun of it.

It matters that we care, that we like all three girls. Klara is vibrant and alive. Bobo is touching and sweet. Hedvig is likable because she is such a good sport. You'd think she'd be stuck up and prissy. The other girls are terrible at music. But of course, Bobo and Klara have offered Hedvig the wonderful opportunity to be part of something memorable. Often all people remember from schoolmates is that they were different. The difference was painful at the time, but special and enviable later. This is Moodysson's story. It's also a story of acting and of filmmaking. We Are the Best! has an improvised feel. This contributes to the pleasure, but can undermine the film's believability. As the lively, confident Klara, Mira Barkhammar in particular often seems to be having so much wild fun on camera that she runs away with and mocks the action a bit. Though the plotline of We Are the Best! is not conventionally important, it is important that we take it seriously that this stuff is really happening, which most of the time we absolutely do, because the characters are so winning. It's a balancing act but ninety-five percent of the time Moodysson & Co. carry it off.

One must entertain the possibility that this movie is not just an adorable trifle but a tremendous one, a small thing with a disproportionate power to charm, able to inspire musings about youth, identity, and other matters. It may be something uncomplicated that provides complex delights and insights. Anyway, when it was screened for this review at the Angelica Film Center in NYC on Wednesday evening, June 4, 2014, the audience was indeed having what seemed like plenty of spontaneous, unforced fun. In this girl power film, which is also a musical film with lots of great period songs, Moodysson, who reinvents himself every time, was adapting a graphic novel written by his wife. There is a flaw, in the version shown: English subtitles were not perfectly timed to coincide with lines of dialogue, which made speakers unclear in rapid exchanges between the girls.

We Are the Best!/Vi är bäst! , 102 mins., debuted at Venice August 2013 and showed at many international festivals, including the San Francisco International Film Festival 5 and 7 May 2014. Limited US theatrical release began 30 May 2014.


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