We Are the Best!
Directed by Lukas Moodysson
Three girls in 1980s Stockholm decide to form a punk band -- despite not having any instruments and being told by everyone that punk is dead.
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★★★★½ review by Mikael Stånggren on Letterboxd
Lukas Moodysson is in many respects like the Lars von Trier of Sweden. Both controversial directors. Both exceptional at their craft, pushing boundaries other film-makers wouldn’t even touch with a stolen tweezer. A lesbian feminist exposing her hairy muff at the breakfast table? No problem. A full-frontal sex orgy with characters pretending to be mentally retarded? Nothing to it!
The scandals aren’t fewer in their public appearances either. I will never forget Guldbaggegalan 1999 (sort of like The Oscars of Sweden, but boring). Moodysson had just debuted with his smash hit Fucking Åmål (a.k.a. Show Me Love) and decided to spice up his acceptance speech by wearing a teddy ear headband (which you can watch here on YouTube) and flipping off the audience. Thereby making the award show view-worthy for the first time in decades.
His rebellious vein has also manifested itself in this latest opus Vi är bäst!. Set in Stockholm in 1982, it concerns Bobo, Klara and Hedvig, three 12 and 13-year-old girls who love music, hate sports and question everything without second thought. Any adults or bullies who want to have their way swiftly discover how futile it is to try and break their independent little spirits.
All three of them are outsiders; Bobo being a self-chosen tomboy, Klara a spiky-haired bolt of energy and Hedvig, who becomes part of the friendship trio later on in the film, a timid girl from a very Christian home.
Daily vexed by things that rub them the wrong way, the girls channel their anger through lyrics and music; spontaneously forming a punk band, much helped by Hedvig’s gifts for fine-tuned guitar play. Precocious as they may yet be when talking faith and politics, they’re still as susceptible to the charms of boys as any other girl in their hormonal age. Which gets more complicated as Bobo and Klara have a crush on the same boy, who plays in another amateur punk band.
Lukas Moodysson has also written the screenplay for the film, which is adapted from the semi-biographical graphic novel “Never Goodnight” by his wife Coco Moodysson. Nostalgic and character-driven, the story pleasantly expels stereotypes while tending to minute details in the physical look and feel of the era. I wasn’t born yet in 1982 (my existence didn’t kick off until two years later) but I know enough of the time to say that it has been perfectly resurrected. He did it with Tillsammans and now again with a film set seven years later. Fantastic atmosphere on both accounts and difficult to depart from. It’s like a warm blanket you’re dying to hold on to, as much as the girls cling to their specific music taste when their mainstream equivalents insist that “punk is dead”.
Apart from how insanely talented and natural the female trio is in their dynamic turns, the greatest reason to why I loved the film is because of how outrageously funny it is. Such as the girls’ debates about God, which is not unlike a teenage spin on a Bergman film, but with considerable more levity. “I don’t believe in God. I believe in ketchup”, as Klara declares. Also hilariously explaining to the religious Hedvig (as if not to offend her) how a punk song called “Hang God” is clearly Christian since the title recognizes that there is a God to be hanged. Because, you know, logic.
Awkward parents, social exclusion – it’s like Paul Feig’s underrated Freaks and Geeks but with female leads and bucket loads of attitude. A life-affirmingly wonderful coming-of-age jewel, which puts Moodysson right back on top as the best, actively working director in Sweden right now.
Punk isn’t dead. Only my doubts that said film-maker could ever return to form again.
★★★★ review by Matt Singer on Letterboxd
In specificity, universality.
★★★★½ review by Gonzo on Letterboxd
What's It About?: Best friends and school outcasts Bobo and Klara decide to start a punk band... except neither of the two know how to play instruments. They befriend Hedvig, a sweet but shy Christian with mad guitar skills who teaches them the basics. This is seriously fucking awesome, you guys.
Who's In it?: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, and Liv LeMoyne. Directed by Lukas Moodysson (Lilya 4-Ever, Show Me Love, Together). Based on the graphic novel Never Goodnight by his wife Coco Moodysson.
The Good: There's one thing you need to know about me: I love these kinds of movies. I fucking love them. Coming-of-age movies about bands are the most enjoyable coming-of-age movies in my book. School of Rock? I could watch that all day. Even one of my all-time favorites is this little-known—and undeniably likable—film starring Doona Bae called Linda Linda Linda (which I order you to watch right away or we can't be friends. And then after that, check out Swing Girls and die from laughter). So, yeah, I love these kinds of movies. When I found out that acclaimed Swedish director Lukas Moodysson made a film about an all-girl, high school punk band, I knew I had to see it, asap. I knew I'd love it—and I did. The screenplay by the Moodyssons is top-notch, the characters are absolutely endearing (my favorite among the three has to be Klara, the amusing, mohawk-rocking pixie with a devil-may-care, fuck-you-all attitude), the acting by the kids is outstanding, the pacing is on-point, and it is utterly hilarious. This movie is a quote goldmine.
The Bad: I wish it was longer.
What Did I Learn?: You can cook fish sticks in a toaster. Punk is not dead. ("Hate the sport!" "God is a fascist!")
The Bottom Line: Teenage rebellion has never been more fun. A charming and thoroughly entertaining coming-of-age film with hints of Hughes, Linklater, and Reiner sprinkled in. We Are the Best! is one of the best films of the year. Highly recommended.
Overall Rating: ★★★★½
★★★★ review by Alice Stoehr on Letterboxd
Here's an autobiographical anecdote: when I was 12-13, I made a few close friends at the small K-8 Catholic school I attended. They were two girls and a boy in the grade below me. They liked watching anime and writing fanfiction; I liked watching anime and writing fanfiction. Suddenly, I was that much less alone. Suddenly, I had friends whose birthday parties I could attend, whose houses I could visit, and in whose company I could spend my heretofore solitary recesses. It was a very powerful change for a very lonely kid. Which is to say that I recognized many of my own experiences in We Are the Best!, sometimes with affection but mostly with discomfort.
The early teenage years it details are ones that everyone has to awkwardly endure (then try to forget), and writer-director Lukas Moodysson (working from his wife Coco's graphic novel) pins down so many of that phase's little torments: the lack of self-awareness, the hesitant forging of an identity, the first stirrings of sexual development, the pervasive self-hatred. (I shuddered with yet more painful recognition every time Bobo gazed in a mirror.) It gets at these phenomena through a string of short, low-stakes vignettes, and though a few dramatic complications arise—a puritanical mom, a cute boy, other mild threats to the band's longevity—We Are the Best!'s deepest interests lie in the empirical experience of friendship. Hanging out, peer pressure, group dynamics: how these girls change and help and hurt each other.
For example, the film puts the girls' artistic collaboration onscreen with unusual sensitivity. Each time they perform their signature song, "Hate the Sport," they become incrementally better; by the end of the film, they're not quite "good" (I mean, this is punk rock) but they have tangibly improved. As the story of their thirteenth years, this is inevitably a record of progress; of things done for the first time. Those landmarks (getting drunk, dating, a botched haircut) may be clumsily achieved, but they still look monumental from a teenager's perspective, and We Are the Best! understands both halves of this duality as equally legitimate.
Using frequent zooms and handheld, Moodysson keeps his camera in the girls' midst, attuned to their naïve energy. As the film rolls along, the bulk of it is given over to ensemble scenes that bounce between Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig as they raise hell in bland 1980s Stockholm. Theirs is a harmless brand of havoc, lightly politicized, yielding reams of first- and secondhand embarrassment. (It's also richly, consistently funny.) Punk may be dead, as one of their classmates insists, but teenage rebellion is eternal—an idea that jibes, incidentally, with my own middle school memories. I loathed gym class, and if I'd been a little more musically inclined, I could see my younger self writing something just as ridiculous and angry as "Hate the Sport."
★★★★½ review by laird on Letterboxd
Punk is born in the bathroom mirrors of outsiders looking for an identity and lives in every 13-year-old who thinks shouting angry words loudly enough can change the world or at least get a rise out of it. Punk is dead, long live punk.
"What's the name of that song?"
"'Hang God.' It's about hanging God because He's a fascist. It's a Christian song, though, because you have to believe in God in order to hang Him."
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