Spreading digestible feminism to the next batch of would-be riot girls is a hearty task for the Gen X and Millennials sitting behind film cameras, but Moxie, the second feature directed by Amy Poehler, tries its best to pass the radical ideas to the next generation. Instead of painting progress as a slow walk that results in the inheritance of the patriarchy by successive generations, Moxie presents a hopeful version of the movement and how it evolves and grows as the torch gets passed.
“We weren’t intersectional enough,” Lisa (Poehler) says to her daughter, Vivian (Hadley Robinson) over dinner. Lisa, who’s not like a regular mom, but a cool mom, regales Vivian with stories of her youth as a protest-happy feminist, something that inspires the high schooler. The heart of this adaptation of Jennifer Mathieu’s novel (by the same name) isn’t just Vivian’s journey to discovering the power of sisterhood. It’s about handing third-wave feminism over to the fourth wave, atoning for the mistakes of the past and looking forward to a better future.
The film opens on a familiar nightmare; a woman attempting to scream but only emitting silence. Then, it sets off telling the tale of a woman finding her voice. Vivian isn’t much for making noise. Her world revolves around her best friend, Claudia (Lauren Tsai), English class, and when the rankings of the junior girls is going to drop. But after her first dose of feminism by way of her mother’s old zines, Vivian gets a sick feeling about the rankings of “most bangable” and “best ass” and starts to question the patriarchy she’d otherwise comfortably lived under. Anonymously, she creates her own zine, Moxie, and sets off a movement that ripples through her entire school. This movement brings the women together to try to smash the patriarchy with markers, stickers, and walk-outs. Early on, the social order is presented how you’d expect any high school-set comedy to, but as Moxie takes over the school, the order is leveled and changed as sisterhood shreds the social statuses and roles imposed upon women.
Throughout her journey from wallflower to radical feminist, Vivian encounters a cast of characters that have existed under her nose, visible to her now as she wears this new lens. One of the foremost villains to Moxie’s crusade comes by way of Patrick Schwarzenegger as the entitled white athlete who winks his way into authority figures’ favor. His Mitchell Wilson is a refreshing take on the “captain of the football team” trope that let’s his charm fade rapidly, turning him into the ‘canceled Nick Sandman speaking at the RNC’ type. It’s one of many transcendent takes on tired high school movie tropes like the well-meaning Principal Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden), who is really just complicit; the cool teacher, Mr. Davies (Ike Barinholtz), who is actually turning a blind eye; and Poehler’s take on the ice-cream loving single mom who is more of a guide for her daughter than an annoyance. Moxie lampoons and takes every facet of these usual suspects to task, be it by exploring white feminism, privilege, intersectionality, cultural pressure, allyship, or complicity.
Attempting to adapt the many threads from the novel leaves a lack of grace for large moments. When the film comes to a head, it takes the big swing at expressing the culmination of the culture and throws in rape. It’s a bit clunky to jam the rape victim into the final minutes of an almost two-hour film, but it’s obvious that the film felt it imperative to bring forward the endgame of rape culture. It feels jarring and uncomfortable, chucking in a side character’s assault as a lesson for the main character, but the film had the difficult task to take on in making sure not to leave out this important beat, while also not forcing us to watch it happen to the lead. It’s one of the instances that showcase the film’s inability to avoid using others’ strife as a way to let the white girl lead grow, and one of the more egregious instances since it’s barely given time to breathe.
Poehler’s second feature pushes her comedy stylings to new territory when taking on this subject matter. It’s not as biting and snappy as her other film work, nor is it meant to be. She’s created, along with screenwriters Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, a high school comedy for the Z generation that gently twists the usual portrayals of crushes, best friends, and high school popularity to shatter the veneer in favor of letting the riot girl break some glass. Poehler’s career has always been marked by her ability to shed comic cynicism in favor of hopeful gags, and Moxie continues in her hot streak of marching forward with hope via bubble-gum feminist rage.
Moxie is now on Netflix.
Header Image Source: Netflix