Moxie (2021)

6 Jun

Smith’s Verdict: ***

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

Somewhat (or definitely) influenced by “Mean Girls” (written by director Amy Poehler’s best friend Tina Fey–wonder if Fey gave Poehler any pointers), “Moxie” is a funny, sweet, inspirational high-school dramedy about a quiet girl who fights back against the campus hierarchy. In this case, it’s a battle against the campus patriarchy–taking the place of Regina George is handsome, popular, smarmy jock Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger).

Who is going after the school’s golden boy? That would be Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a wallflower junior who is proud to ignore and be ignored by many of her peers (except for her best friend Claudia, played by Lauren Tsai). This semi-shallow view changes when she notices that a transfer student, Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena), is also being ignored–by the school principal (Marcia Gay Harden), no less–when she tries to report that Mitchell is harassing her. This opens Vivian’s eyes to the sexism and misogyny going on in the school (such as a list ranking female students) and she decides she’s going to do something about it. So, inspired by Lucy’s no-BS policy and her mother’s teen rebel days, she creates an anonymous girl-power zine called “Moxie.” She leaves copies in the girls’ restroom for students to find, and just like that, a movement has begun.

These are problems still present in many American public schools–the football team gets most of the funding, other teams can’t afford new uniforms, the dress code is ridiculous and filled with double standards, and many people, even those with authority, just won’t listen when certain issues are mentioned. These are among the things that “Moxie” (both the zine and the movie) addresses.

Poehler also co-stars in the movie as Vivian’s mother, who is the exact opposite of the mother she played in “Mean Girls” and thank God for that. She’s learned a thing or two since her high-school days and when things inevitably get too intense for Vivian in secretly keeping Moxie going, she’s there to help her out with some important knowledge. (Poehler in “Mean Girls” was a wannabe “cool mom”–Poehler in “Moxie” actually IS a cool mom.)

All of the young actors are great here. Hadley Robinson is an appealing lead to follow and she has great chemistry with Lauren Tsai as her best friend–it’s heartbreaking when the two inevitably get into an argument about the way things are going because of the zine (which is why it’s heartwarming when they inevitably make up again). Alycia Pascual-Pena turns in a terrific performance as the rebellious Lucy, who leads the Moxie movement forward and won’t take any crap from anybody. (I love her first scene, in which she questions today’s relevance of “The Great Gatsby” in English class–even when Mitchell tries to silence her, she won’t have it.) There’s also a winning performance from Nico Hiraga as a kind skateboard geek named Seth, whom Vivian takes a liking to–the end of their first date is one of the film’s highlights.

Also among the film’s highlights is the clever dialogue brought on by writers Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer (who adapted the screenplay from the YA novel by Jennifer Mathieu) and an empowering ending that would have been cheesy had it not been set up properly by the capable hands of director Poehler.

I think that Netflix Original teen movies are getting much better (the best in recent memory being “The Half Of It”)–following the exceptional “To All the Boys: Always and Forever” a few weeks prior, “Moxie” is further evidence of that. It’s funny, charming, and features some truly awesome teens at its center.

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