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Moxie, 2021

Vivian (Hadley Robinson) lives a subdued life with her mother (Amy Poehler, who also directs). The arrival of a new student named Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena) shakes things up, especially when Lucy begins calling out the rampant sexism at the school. Inspired by her mother's past, Vivian begins an anonymous zine called Moxie. But as Vivian and other girls in the school push back against sexism, they go up against the administration and, at times, each other.

This was a fun little flick, and it did a much better job of exploring its ideas than I expected. If anything, the film takes on more than what can reasonably fit into one film. Intersectional feminism is incredibly important, and the film strains at the seams trying to tell a lot of stories. I appreciated that the film wanted to acknowledge multiple points of view. We get a look at Vivian's best friend's (Lauren Tsai) home life, and the way that she doesn't feel she has the same freedom as her white, "fully American" friends.

The film also takes time to acknowledge the struggles of men who want to be allies to their female classmates. Seth (Nico Hiraga) is a good friend to Vivian and he unabashedly supports the girls of Moxie. But when Vivian becomes upset at the way that she and her friends are constantly pushed down in their efforts, she vents her anger at every male in range, including Seth and her mother's soft-spoken boyfriend (Clark Gregg). In this moment, Seth can't win. It's a nice moment because you feel for Vivian, and yet Seth doesn't deserve to be treated the way that Vivian does. Part of what Vivian has to figure out is how to accept help and support and not see men as a unilateral enemy.

There are several moments in the film that are well-observed, ranging from large to small moments. As a former high school and college athlete, I really felt the criticism about how boys' sports teams (and especially football) reap all of the support and money, even when they are far less successful than their female counterparts. This is something I see in my own community (including a student whose boyfriend wanted her to skip an important soccer game so that she could come cheer for him . . . at his practice). It includes the way that school administrators will play interference for popular students, while at the same time aggressively enforcing policies against others when it suits them. There are boys who show up to my school in Hooters shirts, while girls are constantly asked if the straps on their shirts follow the 3-finger rule.

The performances all range from good to pretty good, and I found the core group of girls (and Seth!) to be very likable. Patrick Schwarzenegger is perfectly smarmy as lead antagonist Mitchell, the star football player.

The negatives to the film are very predictable in this kind of girl-power comedy/drama. The film wants to swing big, and that means that characters often take dramatic actions or have changes of heart that don't feel totally earned. For example, the only teacher we really see in the school is Mr. Davies (Ike Barinholtz). In a very funny and on-point sequence, he and Mitchell fanboy over The Great Gatsby to the exclusion of the other people in the room. But later in the film, Davies shows support for the Moxie girls. But . . . why? We have seen zero awareness from this character, and he has even nodded along when Mitchell accused the Moxie girls of "bullying" him. So from whence comes the change of heart?

Likewise, there are several subplots that, due to time, do not get the depth they really need. Two of the girls in Moxie are gay, and yet this is literally revealed almost as a throwaway. The intersection between feminism and LGBTQ+ activism can be fraught and yet the film just sort of nudges it into the corner. Even a subplot about Vivian's mom starting to date again feels like it needed a fair more screen time to have narrative coherence with the rest of what happens in the movie.

This is a film that tries to take on a lot more than it can handle. I appreciate its effort to be inclusive, even if the number of characters and subplots threaten to overrun its sub-two hour runtime. I liked its messages about solidarity and the different version of allyship, and how easy it is to accept the way things are. At times its messages come off a bit cliche and surface level, but I think its heart is in the right place.