'Moxie' Struggles to Pass the Riot Grrrl Torch on to Gen Z Directed by Amy Poehler
Starring Hadley Robinson, Amy Poehler, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Nico Hiraga
Published Mar 03, 2021In Moxie, the meek teenage protagonist Vivian (Hadley Robinson) searches through her mother Lisa's (Amy Poehler) closet and finds her old leather jacket adorned with feminist pins. Lisa, having been involved in the riot grrrl subculture when she was younger, stowed away her '90s feminist memorabilia, including stacks of zines, for her daughter to discover. Vivian slips the leather jacket on and admires herself in the mirror as Bikini Kill's anthem "Rebel Girl" plays in the background. It's a sentimental moment, the leather jacket being the symbolic baton of the riot grrrl movement being passed on to a new generation of girls. Despite its nostalgic homage to the punk aesthetic and the occasional charming moment here and there, however, Moxie doesn't quite pull off passing on the spirit of teen girl rebellion to its own audience.
Based on the novel of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu, the Poehler-directed Moxie follows Vivian, who anonymously starts a feminist zine and club at her school, and bands with her friends to tackle the patriarchy within the student body — think a female-led Pump Up the Volume. Having Poehler both as director and in a starring role appears enticing on paper, and much of the cast being relatively unknown adds to the intimate aura of the story. But Moxie suffers from pacing issues, poor character development and contrived plot devices, relying on tired high school movie tropes that don't feel applicable to modern high schools anymore. Moxie's style is there, but its substance wavers.
Moxie has too much to say and not enough time to say it. The film wants to portray intersectional feminism through a Gen Z lens, but ultimately shines little light on it. Vivian's best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) is reluctant to participate in Moxie activities due to her conservative upbringing in an Asian family, and transgender student CJ (Josie Totah) fears she won't be taken seriously when she auditions for the lead in the school musical. But we are never shown Claudia's struggles as a woman of colour other than a scene of her mother briefly scolding her, and CJ only has a handful of lines in the entire film. Everything is framed through Vivian, who simply cannot cover all the experiences the film wishes.
While Robinson gives an honest portrayal of a shy girl emerging into her own, Vivian is a blank slate. Perhaps it would have been more fitting for Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) to be the lead character instead, as her motivations are established from the beginning when she is harassed by misogynist jocks; instead, the lead character protagonist is mostly a bystander to the bullying that action-inciting bullying. The issues in the film are ham-fisted, and while sexist dress code rules and teachers who turn a blind eye to bullying certainly persist in real life, the film wants every corner of it's story to hit the audience over the head with after-school special messages.
Vivian's supportive relationship with her crush Seth (Nico Hiraga) and the soundtrack — which includes appropriately rebellious tracks from the Linda Lindas, Princess Nokia and Lala Lala — are both strong highlights. The film also isn't afraid to show the reasons why some girls may be afraid to join counterculture movements based on their backgrounds or their preconceived notions, even if they secretly want to.
Moxie will introduce some young people to riot grrrl, and may even inspire some of them to create their own zines and clubs within their communities. But even though its surface appears packed with girl power and glamour, Moxie lacks the nuance and spark it needs to be remembered as the movement it aims to be. (Netflix)