We Are the Best!

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 05/04/14 06:49:45

"Awesome young punks."
5 stars (Awesome)

SCREENED AT INDEPENDENT FILM FESTIVAL BOSTON 2014: The opening scene of "We Are the Best" briefly reminded me of another recent Scandinavian film, "Sons of Norway", which followed a punk-loving teenager whose need to rebel was frustrated by his exceptionally open-minded and accommodating father. This one pretty quickly goes in a different, lighter direction, and even if it may seem kind of lightweight at times, it's the sort of airiness that comes from kids going full speed ahead.

The punk-loving kid in that first scene is Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), a 13-year-old living in a Stockholm apartment with her mother in 1982; she's on the phone to her best friend Klara (Mira Grosin) while her mother has a big birthday party. They're kind of outsiders at school, and impulsively decide to start a band at the rec center one night. The center only has a bass and drums for them to practice their song about how they hate their gym teacher, but they quickly hit upon a solution: Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), who plays classical guitar to other students' jeers; she can join the band even if she is a good Christian girl.

Writer/director Lukas Moodysson's wife Coco has been credited pitching in in various capacities on several of his movies, and this one is based on a comic she created, probably based upon her own life - the character name "Bobo" isn't exactly a perplexing alias! It does not, thankfully, seem to be a way to exorcise some particularly traumatic childhood experience; in fact, every time the threat of overheated drama rears its head, the Moodyssons tend to defuse it with a wink and recognition that giving yourself a potentially-regrettable haircut, arguing over a boy, or getting booed on stage is not the end of the world. There's a story, sure, but it's a bunch of little things that happen that builds to something whose importance Bobo probably won't fully recognize until she's grown.

There's no adult Bobo supplying narration, though, and that's a pretty great decision on Lukas Moodysson's part. For one thing, even though Bobo is the character whose perspective we are sharing most of the time, it would only take a small shift in perspective for this to be Hedvig's movie, and not much more for it to be Klara's. More importantly, though, even though nobody would be calling these girls "tweens" for another couple of decades, that's what they are, and Moodysson recognizes that they are still more kids than teenagers, let alone adults, and they're written with all the impulsiveness, tendency to stir crap up, and spout off about things they've learned but don't understand that are typical of that age. He has them start out banging on their instruments, and has the hair & makeup people emphasize their androgynous traits rather than pushing playing up budding sexuality, even as boys enter the picture.

A young cast of characters requires some great young actors, and the three at the center of the movie are an impressive group. Mira Grosin stands out as the brashest of the trio; Klara is hilarious in how she just just goes for stuff without inhibition, the source of much of the movie's energy and true punk passion that far outstrips practice in the musical bits. Mira Barkhammar brings some of that, too, although she does a nice job of turning it inward, a little frustrated by her glasses and how even her friends and family will let her fade into the background at times. She does a nice job of never making Bobo seem boringly sullen, though. Liv LeMoyne rounds out the trio, and she quietly does a great job of going from being suspicious of these girls who seem like the opposite of everything she knows and values to being able to let something out and be close to them without really changing who Hedvig is.

There's no jump to the present or rapid summing-up of what all this means at the end of the movie, and there doesn't have to be - it's just a few kids having fun, doing stuff they love and maybe growing up just a little, ultimately important but not overstatedly so. Kids that age will probably get it, if VOD outlets and what few theaters are likely to show it in the US don't treat it like an R-rated movie because there's swearing. But just by playing things as being no big deal, it winds up hitting the right notes.

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