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‘Moxie:’ A feel-good, feminist film

| Monday, March 8, 2021

Maggie Klaers | The Observer

“Moxie,” a recently released Netflix original movie, tells the story of girls at a high school in Oregon standing up to sexist norms. The film, directed by Amy Poehler, is based on the young adult novel by Jennifer Mathieu. 

“Moxie” brings up a lot of the issues which have plagued high school girls for years: unfair dress codes, objectification by their male peers and girls’ sports teams not being taken as seriously as their male counterparts’ teams. The protagonist Vivian (Hadley Robinson) is a silent spectator to these events until she is revolutionized by seeing pictures of her mother at feminist protests during in the ‘90s. In a flurry of teenage angst set to the punk song “Rebel Girl,” Vivian creates a zine calling out sexist peers and the school principal, who turns a blind eye to the unfair treatment of girls at her school. The zine is called “Moxie” and unites girls of different cliques and social groups. 

Since “Moxie” is a film set in high school, it falls into the common trap of portraying the social hierarchy of high school as rigid, which in turn, makes the characters rather one-dimensional. The letterman jacket clad athletes are always loud, confident and only interested in sports while the more academic characters like Vivian are always quiet and awkward. This undermines the fact that most high school students don’t fit neatly into these stereotypes.

The film’s dialogue often feels unnatural and too on the nose. For example, in the first classroom scene of the film, the male English teacher grudgingly begins a class discussion on “The Great Gatsby” by asking “How are women portrayed?” Similarly, in a conversation between Vivian and her mother about her past activism, her mother, played by Amy Poehler, pointedly says that the movements in her day were criticized for not being intersectional enough. While the film does a good job of reflecting a diversity of girls in terms of race and even features a transgender girl as part of the Moxie movement, this unsubtle dialogue makes “Moxie” feel like an example of tokenism. 

The screenwriters also depend heavily on cliches. The principal dismisses the Moxie movement’s concerns about harassment by saying things like “If you want a seat at the table, pull up a chair,” and “Sticks and stones may break your bones but words won’t hurt you.” The unrealistic dialogue creates characters that are caricatures and strips the film of any nuance. 

Despite the subpar execution, the film does resonate with me. Girls in my high school often had similar complaints about being harassed and objectified by boys they considered friends. It came to a point where, like in “Moxie,” girls of all different cliques came together to vent about how things were unfair and how people expect the bare minimum from men, whereas girls are expected to be polite all the time. Yet these meetings never materialized into a school-wide movement like the one depicted in “Moxie.” In order to demand equal treatment in high school, girls have to fight internalized misogyny and risk a lot to stand up to the boys and men who have structural privileges. In reality, this takes a lot of courage and that’s part of the reason why the film feels unrealistic to me. 

“Moxie,” with its colorful aesthetic and simplified messages about friendship, self-confidence and feminism, feels geared to a preteen audience. It could possibly be foundational in shaping a younger audience’s idea about gender and equality, but it lacks the nuance and satirical bite which the story had the potential to contain.

Title: “Moxie”

Director: Amy Poehler

Starring: Hadley Robinson, Amy Poehler, Marcia Gay

Genre: Coming of age, Young adult

If you liked: “She’s the Man,” “Never Have I Ever” (TV Series)

Shamrocks:  2.5 out of 5

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