What is the story about?
Vivian, an introvert girl, spends her days in Rockport High School, Texas, generally staying out of the limelight. Her world is limited to her mother Lisa and best friend Claudia. But the arrival of Lucy, a new girl, brings far-reaching changes to Vivian’s life, as she realizes that the female students at the school are subjected to sexual harassment and gender discrimination. Taking inspiration from Lisa’s past as a teenager, Vivian anonymously starts a zine named “Moxie” that calls out the male students. The zine sparks a feminist revolution in the school. But as the zine becomes more popular, Vivian’s own life starts to unravel. Can Vivian summon the courage to reveal her true identity to everyone?
It has been very well-documented that high school, and even college, is a place where much of our sociological conditioning takes place. At a time when the Time’s Up and #MeToo movements have taken root in the popular imagination globally, and more and more people are speaking up about gender discrimination, a film like Moxie feels timely. What most of us often tend to forget is that for women, this discrimination is ingrained in many ways—both subtle as well as overt—in educational spaces. In such circumstances, even the indifference exhibited by officials in higher positions can feel like cruel lapses of judgement.
Moxie does not try to upend the traditional setup of the American high school drama. Girls talk about makeup, or which boys they want to make out with. Like HBO Max’s Beartown, this school is also obsessed with the exploits (or lack of exploits) of their football team. And yet, something feels off right from the start. Guys vote on the physical appearances of girls and give them crude titles such as “Best Rack” or “Most Bangable”. The principal, as also the English teacher, love to wash their hands off these allegations. Vivian’s reaction and crusade may seem frivolous and scattershot at times, but the sincerity of it is never in doubt. Actor-director Amy Poehler successfully invests this high-school drama with a kind of sincere storytelling, where even the rebellion of female students as they stage a walkout during class feels exhilarating. The theme of feminist rebellion is nothing new, but Poehler, aided by a terrific cast, successfully pulls off a film that feels tailored to the enlightenment of the #MeToo era.
Poehler has a small but impactful role as Lisa, preferring to let the spotlight be on the young cast. Hadley Robinson captures the storm brewing within Vivian perfectly, as she starts thinking more about the world she lives in. Lauren Tsai is lovely as Claudia. Alycia Pascual-Pena is terrific as Lucy, the girl who upends Vivian’s life with her independent thoughts. Nico Hiraga is okay as Seth, who falls in love with Vivian. Josephine Langford lends quite dignity to Emma, another girl, who comes out with her own secret towards the end of the film. Marcia Gay Harden and Ike Barinholtz play Principal Shelly and English teacher Mr. Davies with hilarious, and chilling, indifference.
Music & Other Departments
The songs that music supervisor Alexandra Patsavas chooses for the film feel apt. Mac McCaughan’s score is alright. Tom Magill’s camerawork is decent.
There are several sequences that stay with you. A notable sequence is the one where Mr. Davies gets grilled by all the girls in his class, as they come wearing tank tops.
The indifference of Principal Shelly to all the allegations of favouritism and sexual harassment levelled against Mitchell Wilson, the star player in the football team, feel distasteful and downright cartoonish at times. Also, Emma’s big secret at the time seems more like an afterthought shoved into the film.
Did I enjoy it?
Do I recommend it?
This is a terrific film documenting how sexual harassment gets normalized at the school, and how women have to be supported to speak up more. I’d recommend this film for anyone wanting a basic understanding of gender politics.