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Film Review: Moxie (2021)

Director: Amy Poehler
Writers: Tamara Chestna, Dylan Meyer
Starring: Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Alycia Pascual-Pena
Based on: Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

Synopsis: Fed up with the sexist and toxic status quo at her high school, a shy 16-year-old finds inspiration from her mother’s rebellious past and anonymously publishes a zine that sparks a school-wide, coming-of-rage revolution.

I was unaware of this story before hearing about this film, but it was clear to me going in what the sort of tone would be for the film. This is a standard coming-of-age teen film, but one that is fitting for today’s generation of standing up for what is right and female empowerment. To release this in March under Women’s History Month gives a strong message, and one that I am glad Amy Poelher tackled in her directorial debut.

The film does take a while to get going as the opening does feel quite rough. The exposition of the story does feel unnatural and cheesy as our two leading girls, Vivian (Robinson) and Claudia (Tsai), act in a way that is over-the-top for teenage girls. The opening makes sure to hit every trope of a teenage coming-of-age story set in a school, openly establishing the cliques within the school and making it clear who the popular kids are. Whilst this information is important to the story, it does come across as forced to spring it right into the dialogue.

However, the film does start to slow in the pacing and ease up on the exposition, giving the audience a time to connect with the characters themselves. It is hard not to care about Vivian as Hadley Robinson gives a wonderful leading performance. She is utterly charming, playing a teen that is introverted but rebellious, wanting to make her voice heard and empower others. It is not only Vivian who is great to watch, but all of the female students in the film who come together to fight for equality and make their voices heard.

The idea of making a zine to get the message across school anonymously, as well as seeing the reaction and impact is has, is actually quite a fun concept for a story. In a world where it could have been so much easier to just have the focus be on social media, something that is anonymous within itself, the choice to have the zine and to have that physical presence is a very nice touch. I also loved the fact that none of the other students were aware of who Moxie was, making it feel like a group effort for the movement rather than our leading character, Vivian, taking the lead.

The beginning is quite rough when it comes to the big message of equality, as the first case made does not feel as compelling as it should. However, the rest of the movie makes fantastic points about feminism and issues within the school system that does favour males over females. Each time the school did something that went against Moxie’s beliefs, it became easy to relate to the female students and to understand their frustrations.

There are some issues that I do have with the film outside of the opening sequences. I wish I cared more about the relationship between Vivian and her mother (played boy Poelher), but those scenes sometimes did not connect the way they should have. I also wish that the film didn’t go too far into a few of the school film cliches, such as the cliques and the jock. It would have been nice to steer away from these stereotypes, as the football captain Mitchell (played by Patrick Schwartzenegger, who is 27 and playing a student) just never felt like he was a real person within the rest of the characters in this film.

This is not a film that is going to blow you away or be the next awards contender. However, for the audience that this is intended for in the young-adult genre, it does make impact and it is a fun ride. There is plenty to enjoy and Poelher has made a strong directorial debut. I cannot wait to see what other stories she tells in the future.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Moxie is available to watch on Netflix from March 5th.

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