Review first published by EyeforFilm
All adolescents are at times confronted with a hormonally heightened sense of their difference from both other people and their own changing physiology. The way back often involves banding together with a tribe of the similarly alienated where it is easier to fit in, and then growing alongside them – and it can also result in an embrace and exaggeration of otherness itself. Drawn from a graphic novel by his wife Coco, Lukas Moodysson’s We Are The Best! charts this troubled yet exhilarating period of transformation in a trio of 12-year-old girls, while milking the social and historical particularities of the setting – Sweden, 1982 – for all their nostalgic worth.
Which is to say that, as its enthusiastically optimistic title suggests, Moodysson’s latest sees the writer/director returning to the crowd-pleasing mode of Show Me Love (1998) and Together (2000) after more abrasive excursions into child abuse drama (2002’s Lilya 4-Ever), experimentalism (2004’s A Hole In My Heart, 2006’s Container) and Iñarritu-esque ensemble internationalism (2009’s Mammoth). We Are The Best! is a rebel yell of positivism – with exclamation mark – that brings a fuzzy warmth to all the wintry Stockholm locations.
Tomboyish, bespectacled, just starting to think about boys and to feel uncomfortable in her own skin, Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) is dominated by both her love of punk and by her exuberant, Mohican-sporting best friend Klara (Mira Grosin). Driven in part by their desire to stop a local all-boy band from constantly rehearsing, the two girls book for band practice at their local community centre, despite having no musical abilities whatsoever. Not long afterwards, they pen a song called Hate The Sport – an energetic burst of vitriol against their school’s PE policy, combined with naïvely expressed Cold War anxiety. The song is both impassioned and hilariously silly, enabling Moodysson to pull off the trick of celebrating and universalising the girls’ youthful spirit while also lightly mocking it.
After seeing their strait-laced Christian classmate Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) give a skilled performance on acoustic guitar, Bobo and Klara decide rather self-interestedly to recruit her – but Hedvig, no less an outcast than they are, fast becomes a genuine friend, as well as an improbably committed fellow punk. The girls’ rites of passage include the usual drinking, parties and nearly falling out over boys, but their solidarity always wins through – and will win viewers over. When they finally give their first – and possibly last – gig at a Christmas event in the industrial city of Västerås, they respond to cruel heckling from the young audience by declaring, “Maybe you’ve heard punk is dead, but it isn’t,” and then launching into an improvised version of their signature song, restyled Hate Västerås, in which they express pity for the ‘poor’ locals who live there.
It is not particularly punk of these girls to make fun of their hosts’ working-class environs. For this is a slyly funny reversal in which the very band of sisters which rails against bourgeois conformity also sings from its sheet. Of course punk here is really just a teen attitude rather than an elaborate ideology – and as such, it is something everybody has experienced, warts and all. The results are a joy.