The Title Says it All, by Scott Nye
Unfettered joy is a tough thing to capture in narrative art. The habit in crafting fiction, after all, is to continually introduce conflict, the engine believed to be a necessary force in audience engagement. It’s not that there isn’t conflict in We Are the Best!. It comes from all the expected arenas of a coming-of-age story; parents and various authority figures just don’t get it, man, and friends are forever negotiating their own desires in relation to their loyalties. But what makes writer/director Lukas Moodysson’s latest film so exceptional is that it dodges any attempt in letting the conflict define it, letting these petty issues get in the way of what truly matters – the sudden and intense friendships that develop when one is young.
It’s 1982 in Stockholm. Klara (Mira Grosin) and Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) are outcasts to everyone at their middle school and misunderstood by their parents. But they don’t give a damn, because that wouldn’t be very punk. They form a band, mostly as a way of angering some older boys (which is very punk), and aren’t ready to let a lack of talent prevent them from rocking out. But Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a Christian girl at their school, has talent to spare, surely enough to elevate the whole band. Moodysson, adapting a comic book by his wife, Coco, neither mocks Hedvig for her faith, nor glorifies her for it. It emboldens her as often as it inhibits her. Klara and Bobo may take a more “God is dead” approach, but then, they also think punk is dead, and keep right on celebrating that. And soon, so too will Hedvig.
They meet some boys, they act out, they slowly form a song about how much they hate athletics, and eventually get to take their act to an extraordinarily small-scale venue and show them what’s what, which…if there’s a more exuberant moment in any other film this year, I shall be surprised and quite thankful. This marks the acting debuts for all three of the principal players, who don’t come across like amateurs so much as they seem entirely unaffected. They have tremendous onscreen focus, unconcerned with appearing “cute” or “precocious” or any of the usual terms reserved for even older children like themselves. They’re what most kids are at twelve, thirteen, fourteen – a raging ball of curiosity, hormones, anxiety, joy, self-righteousness, and anger, often at the same moment. They lash out against their parents in the most modest of ways, and are happy to do whatever it takes so long as they can hang out and play together. Moodysson captures it all with a loose camera, as unrestrained and unmannered as his subjects, bouncing from moment to moment with the grace that comes from abandon.
Earlier on Twitter today, film critic Miriam Bale wondered if We Are the Best! would receive any bad reviews at all. I have to wonder the same. The film is so infused with joy, with small acknowledgments of how fleeting youth is, with the heightened sensation of every emotional shift. The crowd with which I saw it last November was positively vibrating the whole time. The title does not lie.