Image Credit: Moxie (2021)
'Moxie' is a variation on the high school movie that tackles issues of sexism, sexual assault, double standards, and more.
It’s a product of #MeToo times, with themes universally applicable to schools, workplaces, the film industry, and so on, but I couldn’t help wondering if some of the story was inspired by the notorious Brock Turner case. Whatever the genesis, director Amy Poehler’s film is engaging and satisfying for the most part.
The plot concerns Vivan (Hadley Robinson) and Claudia (Lauren Tsai), best friends who plan to sail through high school under-the-radar, avoiding the silly cliques with an eye on scientific college courses. They have become numb to the harassment of arrogant popular sports jock Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger), and the sexist culture which turns a blind eye to everything from inappropriate sexualising social media posts that rank pupils, to the bullying of new girl Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena). However, Lucy isn’t going to take this lying down and makes that much clear to Vivian.
She complains to the apathetic school principal (Marcia Gay Harden), who essentially tells her to suck it up and kowtow to the internalised misogyny inherent within the school. Seeing this, and inspired by her mother’s feminist protest past, Vivian devises a mad-as-hell-and-not-going-to-take-it-anymore protest newsletter entitled Moxie, which she anonymously distributes among the school. Waves of controversy ensue, as the girls (and some of the boys) begin to take a stand. But the film also finds time for the usual romantic subplots, house parties, best-friend fallouts, parental rows, and so forth that tick the genre boxes.
Alycia Pascual-Pena is particularly good, and part of me wishes the film had centred on her.
Working from a screenplay by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer (adapting Jennifer Mathieu’s source novel), Poehler’s direction is unshowy, allowing the strong performances of the leads to dominate. Alycia Pascual-Pena is particularly good, and part of me wishes the film had centred on her. There are a few good supporting roles, including Poehler herself, as Vivan’s mother, and an underused Ike Barinholtz as an amusingly flustered but well-meaning English teacher.
Despite being enjoyable overall, a couple of moments veer into sanctimonious virtue-signalling of a kind that slightly irritates me (I eye-rolled at a couple of heavy-handed, irrelevant dairy-is-bad-for-you and is-this-culturally-sensitive clichés). The third act is also rather heavy-handed in this respect and lurches dangerously close to out-and-out preachy. This is a shame, as the film is highlighting issues of legitimate concern, and up to that point had done so in an entertaining way.
Moxie is still worth a watch.
That said, Moxie is still worth a watch. If nothing else, it demonstrates emphatically and convincingly the difference between “annoying” and “dangerous” when it comes to sexist bullying behaviour in schools, and the importance of not letting it fester, but tackling it head-on.