“We should start a band.”
“We seriously should.”
One of the perfect gems of 2014.
With all the hype about Boyhood (much of it deserved), it is wonderful to see a movie about young girls coming of age, a story that is equally as sensitive, kind, as well as scarily accurate. What are 13 year old girls like? Well, many of them are like this. I saw myself in each one of these characters. I remembered middle school. I remembered how passionate we were about the music we loved. The awkwardness of developing a crush, when literally 2 days ago (it felt like), you were 8 years old. Holding hands was the biggest deal in the world. And your friends were everything. These three girls are friends.
These are not cliched children. This is what it was like. For many of us. The fact that that needs to be reiterated and underlined just shows you how sad the situation is, that young girls are not represented properly, or at least not enough. There’s not enough out there to counter-act all the precocious sexualized dehumanizing bullshit that little girls face, especially as they hit puberty. Being 13 years old is its own thing. It’s not being 16, it’s not being 19. It’s being 13. What does that mean, what does that look like? I was 13 years old once, we all were. So few films really deal with it in a friendly way: girls are seen as prey, or on the rough road to adulthood, growing up too fast, blah blah. Yes, those things happen, too. But that’s the ABC After School Special theory of adolescent female-hood, it’s all treachery, one wrong step and you’re hooking under the freeway ramp! But what about other stories? About girls who know what they like, who try to be good to each other (and sometimes fail, and then have to try to do better), who support each other, who have other things on their mind than getting a date to the school dance? We Are the Best! is a bracing, funny, and intelligent tonic.
Who are these children? The three young actresses (Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne) are amazing. They have some real scene-work to do, some real issues to portray (one’s mom is a bit of a floozy, with a new boyfriend every week, one comes from a strict religious background and has conflicting feelings about going all punk – but that situation resolves itself in a human and unexpected way, rather than a cliched way), and they are all completely game, completely open to the improvisational reality of every moment. They are funny, smart, awkward, chatty, giggly, sometimes angry. It is 1982 in Stockholm. They love punk music, but punk has been declared dead. They missed the movement. They wear their hair in spikes, in Mohawks, they discuss punk music passionately and knowledgeably, they want to be a part of it. They want to live it. We Are the Best! remembers that brief moment in time, early in the 80s, before Madonna arrived, when things were still … rough, un-corporatized, when the sound was still ugly and raw. The girls are naive about music and politics and social change. Of course they’re naive. They’re 13 years old. The film does not disabuse them of their ideals. Time enough for that as they grow up. For now, they want to be punk rockers, they live, eat, breathe, punk!
We Are the Best! also includes one of the most purely satisfying scenes in any movie this year. A bunch of older musicians, all male, want to help the young girls out. They assume nobody can play an instrument, and so they (kindly, but still) mansplain the girls to DEATH about how to hold the guitar, and adjust the strap. The girls sit there, listening to this, laughing out loud. The second Hedwig starts playing, and she sounds better than any of those grown-up males do, jaws drop around the room. All the guys start nodding, enthusiastically, impressed. I felt like cheering.
We Are the Best! had a groundswell of critical support when it hit American shores, and is currently streaming on Netflix. Definitely one of the films of the year. I love a film that is so fully, so completely, so confidently, itself.