We Are the Best! (2014); directed by Lukas Moodysson

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“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.

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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.

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24 Responses to We Are the Best! (2014); directed by Lukas Moodysson

  1. Dan Heaton says:

    So true! I watched it a few weeks ago and it makes me happy every time I think about it. The last scene with the girls on the bus and glowing after their gig is just perfect. I love the way they just casually say “we are the best” and totally believe it.

    • sheila says:

      Dan – I know, right? So joyous! They started a riot at their show – they got called names and had people throw things at them! They are soooooo PUNK now! I loved their enthusiasm.

      But the details all felt right too. When Bobo called the punk boy she liked – and basically made up a reason to call – she could lend him a record – her behavior was just so spot on. She’s not sexually precocious. She’s 13. EVERYTHING is new. Her face was so expressive of all of that.

      And I loved the boys, too. I kept waiting for it to get ugly – or somehow turn into something nasty – but no, they were just teenage boys who loved punk music too.

      Something about the film just really really understands early adolescence. It doesn’t condescend to the characters. I am still really good friends with the girls I met in middle school. And we were that silly, and that inexperienced, and that geeky about the stuff we loved – AND we were all really GOOD to one another. We tried to be good friends even though, you know, we were only 12 years old. I just so appreciated that relationship aspect of it.

  2. sheila says:

    and I loved how the three girls REALLY supported one another. There were a couple of moments where you could tell Bobo was feeling left out, or bossed around – but in general, they were there to give pep talks to one another.

    “You can do this.”
    “You’re great at the drums.”
    “A boy will definitely like you some day.”
    “Your hair looks great like that.”

    etc.

    It was just adorable, so real. Girl friendships are so intense – and it’s nice to see them portrayed in a way I recognized.

    Where on earth did they find these young girls?? Now I need to go back and read all the interviews. I try to avoid press until I’ve seen whatever film it is.

  3. sheila says:

    Also I loved Klara’s goofball dad swooping into the room with his oboe (clarinet?). “Can I jam with you guys?” “DAD, YOU’RE EMBARRASSING ME.”

  4. Heather says:

    Oh holy crap I hope this is on Canadian Netflix. I want to spend some time remembering that being a young woman was a good thing!

    • sheila says:

      Heather! Would love to hear your thoughts!

      Yes – nobody flies off the rails! Can you believe it? They are not in danger, they are not prey. They are definitely under-estimated, but they fly right through that with their own humor and self-confidence. They’re REAL, though – not idealized little super-power girls. It’s soooo human.

      Let me know what you think when you get a chance to see it!!

  5. Helena says:

    Thanks for this, Sheila. Ended up watching it last night and loved it.

    Loved the gig with the girls inspiring a punk riot within 5 seconds of getting on stage in Vasteros (Westeros? the Stockholm vs the suburbs snobbery was hilarious) and Father Christmas having to act as bouncer. Also the fact that there was hardly anyone at the gig in that vast sports hall, just a gaggle of spotty kids. And that Santarock is after Christmas.

    • sheila says:

      Helena – So glad you watched!! Wasn’t it great?

      The whole “This is a city.” “No, it’s not, it’s a suburb.” “It’s a city.” “No. Suburb” thing was so funny to me – and I don’t even know the town in question and who was right in that particular argument.

      And yes, the “concert”!! With Santa Claus! Hysterical. In that moment, causing a riot, they were the greatest rock stars in the world. They were living the dream.

      I loved how the whole Hedwig situation panned out. At first I thought it would go the way it normally goes: prissy girl loosens up, the other two gang up on her, or whatever – but no. Hedwig was really awesome from the get-go, and both Bobo and Klara seemed to realize that immediately, even though they were contemptuous of the whole Christian thing. They watched her play guitar like, “Uhm, wow. She’s really kind of awesome.”

  6. sheila says:

    Also:

    “We’d love to have a girl band open for us.”
    “We’re not a girl band.”
    “You’re girls. You have a band. You’re a girl band.”
    “We’re not a girl band.”

    The film had a really light touch with the tokenization that women/girls face – the guys weren’t jerks about it, and the girls fought back – but still: it certainly made that point.

    I loved that the film ended with the girls “having it all.” They got to have it all in that final moment. The title ends up being perfect!

  7. Helena says:

    // Hedwig was really awesome from the get-go//

    She was, wasn’t she. The Sheriff Hanscombe of the group.

  8. sheila says:

    The least likely punk rock star, the Christian girl in the white sweater. But she was “the best!!!”

  9. Helena says:

    God, Moodyson has a tumblr! I’m so following it: Rihanna, Gina Rowlands and Emily Dickinson.

  10. sheila says:

    Ooh, thanks for the tip!

  11. Helena says:

    And I’m looking forward to reading the book that inspired it by Coco Moodysson – there will be a translated version published in the UK next year. No doubt in the States, too.

  12. sheila says:

    So many punk bands I’d never heard of too! I love the passionate discussions – how if you like THIS band, that means you’re cool. But if you cop to liking THAT band, you’re clearly just a poseur.

  13. Helena says:

    Yes, the discussions were very heated! I liked the conversations about the other band’s lyrics (Brezhnev and Reagan – fuck you!) ‘ They’re rubbish! Brezhnev’s dead!’ ‘You can sing about dead people.’ All the conversations where they were working things out – whether you can believe in things you can’t see.

    • sheila says:

      Right! “You can’t see emotions.” says Hedwig. Huh, that was a real brain-teaser. Everyone stopped to think about it.

  14. Maureen says:

    Thanks for this post, Sheila-I just watched it on Netflix and loved it! You are so right, it really captured the camaraderie and joy in each other’s company that girls this age have. I loved the scene where Bobo and Klara are going to sleep, and Klara says “you have two friends who really like you.” as she is comforting Bobo after she got sick on the brother’s records. That whole conversation “well, he put them on the floor.” like-hey, if he did that, he deserves what he gets! HA!

    I also loved that Hedvig was very much her own person-bringing her own low key but vibrant energy to the group.

    Such a good movie!

    • sheila says:

      Maureen – Yay, I’m so excited you saw it!

      That little pep talk before they went to sleep was so touching to me. That is how girls are with each other, a lot of the time, and it was so simple and sweet.

      Hedwig was awesome!

  15. Dan Heaton says:

    That was such a great and unexpected moment, especially after the parents were arguing earlier. It actually felt real, which is pretty rare!

    • sheila says:

      I also liked how real the parents all felt, too. None of them really counted for much – in terms of standing in the way of what the girls wanted to do – but they were nice three-dimensional glimpses, I thought. Not making too big a deal out of any of it (the floozy mom, the religious mom, the goofy dad) – but just enough to give us a sense of the girls’ world and where they were coming from.

      They loved their parents, all three of the girls, and are still children in most respects… but at the same time, they’re starting to make their own way. All of that was handled really sensitively.

  16. Heather says:

    So this showed up on Canadian Netflix and I finally got to see it. What a joy!
    This movie truly did remind me of being that age, having intense friendships, trying to figure out your place in the world and just doing your thing. Getting into the most excellent trouble…. So glad you reviewed this Sheila.

    The girls exultation when they got onto the bus on the way home from their first ‘gig’ was so real and so amazing- I just wanted to bottle that enthusiasm shining off their faces.
    And I loved the scenes where they were eating. Don’t you remember devouring food after school because you were SO hungry.

    This is a gem of a movie. A gem and a bit of an antidote.

    • sheila says:

      Heather – hooray, so psyched you got to see it!!

      It really understands how it’s around that age that you start to create your own world – the friendships you make, the passions you follow – and yet you’re still a child. Loved that aspect of it!

      and yes: their joy was amazing!! I love these three young actresses so much.

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