A wave of American High School dramas that tackle hard-hitting issues have been hitting our screens recently, including Love, Simon (2018) and The Hate U Give (2018). Focusing on Generation Z these films feel quite different to their Eighties and Nineties counterparts, as they make it clear from the outset what form of injustice they are going to confront.
Moxie, a passion project of Amy Poehler (she directs, produces and stars), is the latest film in this vein. Based on the novel of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu, Moxie (meaning determination) follows Vivian Carter (Hadley Robinson) as she starts to recognise – and then challenge – the sexist mentality that dominates her high school.
Sexism is rampant in multiple aspects of society across the world. More often it affects women, for example the gender pay gap, the phenomenon of ‘mansplaining’ and street harassment.
There are a multitude of examples that I can share from my own personal experience, but Moxie brilliantly captures some of them and shares them on the screen.
Take for instance when a male student interrupts a female student as she answers a teacher’s question in class. The female student says that she’s still talking. The male student replies: “I know, but…” and proceeds to give his opinion.
That obnoxious male student, Mitchell Wilson (Patrick Schwarzenegger), can be classed as the film’s antagonist, but you could argue that he is simply the product of a society that value’s men and male endeavours higher than women or people who identify as non-binary.
Moxie tackles many important issues – including rape and the pressure of family expectation – with cries of “moxie girls fight back” and women coming together to share experiences and support one another. There are also examples of empathetic men, as Moxie rightly states that “sexism is everyone’s business”.
The (mostly) young ensemble cast – Schwarzenegger would have been around 26 at the time of filming – deliver strong performances. Robinson’s Vivian undergoes what would outwardly appear quite a big transformation, going from the person voted ‘most obedient’ to spearheading a gender revolution through the publication of an anonymous zine.
The supporting adults range from the female Principal (Marcia Gay Harden) who seems to deliberately turn a blind eye to an uncomfortable teacher who clearly didn’t expect a class of 16-year-olds to be asking him for his views on gender equality. There’s also Poehler’s Lisa Carter, Vivian’s mother, who fought for equality herself when she was a teenager.
On first watch Moxie is a powerful film that will hopefully empower audiences to challenge the status quo that they witness. Although twice the age of the young protagonists I felt uplifted and energised by what I had watched.
At just shy of two hours it did seem to drag in various points and while there was a lot of character development for Vivian and her best friend (Claudia, played by Lauren Tsai) there wasn’t a lot of depth to some of the other characters.
Little is known about Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña), a new student whose arrival is the catalyst for the revolution, or indeed Schwarzenegger’s Mitchell. He’s unlikeable and indulged by his peers and the adults around him but who actually is he? Is he experiencing some trauma that we are not privy to which could go someway to explain his behaviour?
It is a similar case with Poehler’s Lisa. Vivian has little meaningful interaction with her mother so I personally would have found it more powerful if Lisa had passed away when Vivian had been young and it was when Vivian found her mother’s old scrapbooks that spurred her on to question the gender equality at her school in her memory.
That being said, there’s a lot to enjoy about Moxie and I look forward to watching it again.
Director: Amy Poehler
Starring: Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Alycia Pascual-Pena
“Fed up with the sexist and toxic status quo at her high school, a shy 16-year-old finds inspiration from her mother’s rebellious past and anonymously publishes a zine that sparks a school-wide, coming-of-rage revolution.” – IMDb