By Lynn Venhaus
The “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements gain allies at an Oregon high school, where the girl students discover their voices and power in unity in the sharply observed “Moxie.”
What is Moxie? It means “force of character, determination or nature,” according to the Oxford dictionary. This coming-of-age cause, based on a 2017 young adult novel by Jennifer Mathieu, grows in influence and energy.
An introverted 16-year-old girl discovers how the female student body is objectified and dismissed, and how pervasive the toxic masculinity is at her school. Fortified by her mother’s rebellious spirit during her youthful Riot Grrrl days, she anonymously publishes a zine, “Moxie!” that inspires the girls to band together and work towards changing the status quo.
Directed by Amy Poehler with a keen sense of Generation Z and its conflicts, this movie gets a lot right, particularly its target message.
The screenplay by Dylan Meyer and Tamara Chestna astutely points out that people aren’t perfect, it’s OK to mess up, be unsure and confused, but at least come away with purpose. The examples of casual sexism and double standards are spot-on as the sisterhood discovers the importance of feminism.
This engaging ensemble – subtly inclusive — portray refreshingly authentic characters. The mother-and-daughter dynamic between Amy Poehler and Hadley Robinson is the key relationship. As Vivian’s working single mom, Lisa guides her daughter in raging against the patriarchy but also as a steady strong parental presence.
Among the appealing cast of rising stars, Robinson shines as the shy Vivian, who summons a righteous anger to lead a revolution. Her dorky character’s growth is fun to watch as she develops new friendships and falls in love with once-geeky classmate Seth, who is kind and considerate. She will stumble and figure out how to be a force for good.
Newcomer Robinson, a Juilliard grad, was both the Laurey dancer in “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” as well as one of the Tulsey Town girls, and Sallie Gardiner Moffat, one of Meg March’s friends, in Greta Gerwig’s “Little Women.”
The dream boyfriend is in the mold of Edward Cullen and other post-Twilight gallant guys, who are attentive to the girl’s needs and feelings. Nico Hiraga is a winning presence as the skateboarding dude who gained confidence after a summer growth spurt.
Each teen character has interesting layers, except for the clear villain, Mitchell Wilson, the popular but insufferable sexist quarterback who has gotten away with bullying because of his Big Man on Campus status. He is played with cocky assurance by Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of Arnold and Maria Shriver. It is a one-note character that’s too obvious.
But the rest of the fired-up girl squad engages with charm and personality. As transfer student Lucy, who stands up for herself and reports harassment, Alycia Pascual-Pena excels, as does Lauren Tsai as mild-mannered Claudia, who carves her own path.
Sydney Park and Anjelica Washington are noteworthy as female athletes whose winning soccer team is largely ignored and in the shadow of the losing football team.
There are a few wobbly parts, and a climactic revelation adds darker drama in a too-neatly wrapped up final act.
And while it is more amiable than laugh-out-loud funny, “Moxie” distinguishes itself as cut-above the usual teen comedy. It is not your mom’s call to action, nor is it a fist-pump for only one generation — — and it brings up worthy elements to add to the current conversation.
“Moxie” is a teen comedy and romance directed by Amy Poehler, who also stars, along with Hadley Robinson, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Alycia Pascual-Pena, Marcia Gay Harden, Nico Hiraga, Ike Barinholtz and Lauren Tsai. The movie is rated PG-13 for thematic elements, strong language and sexual material, and some teen drinking and run time is 1 hour, 51 minutes. Lynn’s Grade: B. Available to stream on Netflix.
Lynn Venhaus has had a continuous byline in St. Louis metro region publications since 1978. She is a Rotten Tomatoes-approved film critic, currently reviews films for Webster-Kirkwood Times and KTRS Radio, covers entertainment for PopLifeSTL.com and co-hosts podcast PopLifeSTL.com…Presents, and writes features and news for Belleville News-Democrat and contributes to other publications. She is a member of CCA, AWFJ and St. Louis Film Critics Association. She is a founding member of the St. Louis Theater Circle.