Swedish social realism meets tweenage angst in this feel good coming of age from Swedish progressive director Lukas Moodysson. Adapted from his wife Coco Moodysson’s semi-autobiographical graphic novel, Moodysson’s seventh feature is his most uplifting (aka most audience friendly) film to date, marking a move away from richly dark festival favourites such as Lilya-4-Ever (2002) and the experimental Container (2006), and a return to the lighter comedies of Together (1998) and Fucking Amal (2000) which made his name.
We Are The Best! follows tween best friendsClara and Bobo (played by newcomers Mira Grosin and Mira Barkhammar), two tomboys with ragamuffin wannabe punk haircuts, who decide to form a punk band in 1980s Stockholm against the general consensus that “punk is dead.” This despite neither knowing how to actually play an instrument. So what is a young punk to do? The girls sign up for rehearsal space at their local youth centre and temporarily abscond a bass guitar and drumkit from an older group of boys. Still that leaves for a pressing lack of musical ability. Enter Hedwig (Liv LeMoyne) the loner devout Christian with an amazing knack for classical guitar. Clara and Bobo woo Hedwig to join their punk band in order to teach them how to play. And so the trio embark on a do-it-yourself adolescent journey. They listen religiously to new currents in Swedish punk, squabble over the existence of God, cut each other’s hair to relative success, drink themselves sick at a siblings house party, consort with boys from other bands and practice for an end of year youth concert at a neighbouring town.
Interestingly Moodysson’s film takes place almost entirely outside of school and home and away from the purview of teachers, parents and siblings. Because of this we see the girls at their most playful, but also their most courageous and vulnerable. This isn’t to say their home lives are problem free. It is a Moodysson film after all. Bobo’s mother is an alcoholic divorcee who is unable to pin a lover down for too long. Not to mention the questioningly awkward tension between Bobo and her absent father who comes to dinner one night which is left completely ambiguous. Yet Bobo nor the other girls suffer from these background tensions. They have more pressing matters, namely punk rock and boys. In fact these girls virtually rule their own lives. They don’t nag and whine like other children but they take matters into their own hands. When they need money to buy an electric guitar they literally beg it out of strangers at the mall. When they crush over local teenage punk musicians reviewed in a music magazine, they literally call them up and ask if they can rendezvous.
Moodysson has always worked with adolescents and in previous forays has captured them at their most raw and unhinged (Lilya-4-Ever). Here his docu-real camera roves the mise en scene capturing nuanced and subtle performances. Their lives are not the jarring wreckages of his past films but closer to the everyday. To its detreiment the stakes are never high and the emotional attachment never great but it’s rewarding to see the girls go about their lives, converse, disagree, agree, ponder, come to a consensus and then act. This is the stuff of character building and there’s a sense the girls really are learning and changing, an arc helped by an uncontrived story and realistic dialogue.
We Are The Best! is by no means a subversive film but it is evocative. It takes pleasure in its nostalgia, in recounting the days of youth. Moodysson wants us to remember our own after school excursions, our brushes with authority, our near misses and minor successes. When the general rebelliousness of youth was enough to fuel and carry you through to the next day.
Magnolia Pictures to release theatrically in North America.