Moxie (2021) Review

Moxie (2021)
Director: Amy Poehler
Screenwriters: Tamara Chestna, Dylan Meyer
Starring: Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Nico Hiraga, Josephine Langford, Ike Barinholtz, Amy Poehler, Marcia Gay Harden

Moxie takes place at East Rockport High, a school in which misogyny thrives. Seriously, none of the boys at East Rockport High have any respect for women, and none of the girls, even the female principal, seem to notice. At points it becomes almost like a parody of a misogynistic high school. One example of this is “The List”, a physical manifestation of who the boys of the school decide is “most bangable” and who has the “best ass”. When outspoken new girl Lucy (Pascual-Peña) shows it to the school Principal after she is bestowed a title too vulgar to even be revealed to each of us, she is told ‘oh that’s just social media’. The film wants you to believe that everyone else is simply okay with how the boys of the school act until Lucy is brave enough to make a stand.

Now that Vivian (Robinson) has finally spoken to someone about how strange this school is, she realises the list is bad. She returns home angry and ready to smash the patriarchy. Taking inspiration from her former Riot Grrrl mum (Poehler), Vivian creates an anonymous zine, “Moxie”, that acts as a call to arms for the girls of East Rockport High. The zine inspires a group of girls to come together to protest against the issues they face within the school.

Moxie has great promise. It has the opportunity to be an inspirational feminist movie that teenagers will love and adults will wish they had been able to see when they were teenagers. Unfortunately, it does not live up to its potential.

One of the key ways in which Moxie lets down its audience is how it deals with inclusivity. The representation in this film is token. Josie Totah plays a trans character whose gender identity is acknowledged in a very general conversation about the issues that are faced by the girls in the school. This is a missed opportunity for the film to explore the trans teenage experience. Similarly, there is a kiss between two female characters that is never mentioned again. There is also a character in a wheelchair and her disability is her entire personality. Furthermore, Moxie makes it the job of a black girl to teach our white protagonist about feminism. The film would have benefited greatly from one of these supporting characters being the protagonist over Vivian, whose only personality trait is being the vehicle for the film’s premise.

Every character in Moxie is there to tick a box – “look, we have a diverse cast!”

It is simply not enough to have characters that show the movie is inclusive, the movie itself has to be inclusive. Moxie feels as though a group of people sat down and brainstormed which issues teenagers face these days and decided to make sure they all appeared. As a result, characters are two dimensional and each neatly fit into their own minority group to cover all bases of intersectionality.

Something that proves particularly jarring is the way in which the characters’ struggles are presented. This is particularly key with Claudia (Tsai), Vivian’s best friend. She is a first generation immigrant and there is an academic pressure that comes with this. However, this exploration is driven by cliché; her mum moved to America to ‘give her a better life’, which makes little sense in a 2021 film, pertaining to old notions that America is the only place in the world that anyone would want to live. It is beyond lazy writing to make a character of Asian heritage have ‘I must do well at school to make my mum happy’ as her only goal or personality trait.

Moxie feels like it has been written by 40 year old women who remember what it was like to be a baby feminist at high school with a few thrown in phrases they have heard ‘the kids these days’ say. There is a scene, which one assumes has been created to show how kooky teenagers can be, in which Vivian and her love interest Seth have a date in a funeral home. This really happens. Moreover, characters barely use social media which feels like another misstep. Moxie seems to have missed an opportunity to ground its representations of contemporary teenage feminism in reality.

Moxie has moments of genuine humour, which is understandable given that it’s coming from Amy Poehler (‘Parks and Recreation’). However, much like sketch comedy, it will make you laugh out loud but is forgettable. None of the jokes are lasting or even fit into the wider narrative. It’s almost as though they were placed in at a late stage in the filmmaking process to make the film funnier.

Among Moxie’s many shallow attempts to address contemporary feminist issues is its mishandled representation of sexual violence towards women. At the beginning of the film, the topic feels shoe-horned in, with Vivian’s mum watching a news broadcast that discusses the #MeToo movement, and the climax centres around an unnecessary and poorly handled sexual assault storyline. This makes for incredibly uncomfortable viewing, especially as the topic is resolved almost as soon as it’s mentioned, much like many of the topics the film attempts to address. In this case, as the girls respond in a disingenuous manner, the principal of the school is shown to be handling the situation. It isn’t difficult to imagine the writers offering themselves a self-congratulatory pat on the back.

Moxie had a great opportunity to explore feminism through the lens of Gen Z. However, what it offers is a shallow representation of the people that are most affected by the issues this film fails to properly address. Although the cast and characters are diverse and seem to represent intersectional feminism, they are not developed past one visual acknowledgement of their minority, undermining the very purpose of this film.


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