Seen: At the Kendall Square Landmark Cinema in Cambridge.
Aspiring punks Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) may only be thirteen years old, but they are ready to take on the world with their newly-formed band. At first trying to teach themselves to play bass and drums, they eventually enlist shy Christian guitarist Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) to join the group, and the three forge a solid but sometimes tempestuous friendship. Politics, class, puberty, and music all intermingle as the girls come of age in early 80s Stockholm- sticking together through first crushes, first DIY haircuts, first hangovers, and their first live performance at a small-town music festival. They must overcome petty squabbles as well as ideological differences if they’re going to make the band work, but luckily they can always come together over their mutual hatred of sports.
With a loose, freeflowing narrative and a strong core cast, We Are the Best! is just straight-up delightful filmmaking. There is a true understanding of teenage experience at its center, especially that of young outsider teen girls, which propels the whole story forward and embraces the audience. Though structured around Bobo and Klara’s formation of a punk band, it’s more a series of episodes depicting their coming of age, with certain seemingly universal factors. They contend with embarrassing parents and crushing self-doubt, fighting back with daring style experiments and a certain overconfidence. Their instinctive reactions against authority, their undeveloped understanding of broad ideological concepts, their brash opinions, their struggle between self-actualization and self-loathing- it all connected so clearly to my own teenage experience. I had an unflattering short haircut when I was 11; I had a sleepover with girlfriends where we attempted to give a friend a mohawk (not to cut it, though, but to dye it and stick it up with Koolaid); I had a crush on a friend’s older brother; I wanted to be a punk rocker. My teenage-dom unfolded on that screen, and I can only assume it did the same for other women (and probably men) in the audience.
Regardless of my intense personal response, We Are the Best! is a really fantastic film in general. Writer/director Lukas Moodysson (adapting his wife’s graphic novel) sets his camera on the small intimate spaces of lower-middle-class apartments and the uncertainty of urban streets, mixing warm colors and dark, wintry weather. There is a focus on small moments, along with the kind of minor victories and tragedies that seem super important at the time. The narrative flits between home and school, band practice and first dates, fights and goofing around and political arguments; the relationship between Bobo and Klara (and later, Hedvig) is gradually established simply through their day-to-day interactions. It’s a really stirring portrait of female friendship, highlighting the importance of that feeling of solidarity among teen girls. It’s also a document of the time, referencing international events, fashion trends, music styles, and social systems. I don’t know how accurate the landscape is since I’m unfamiliar with Stockholm, but the visuals definitely evoke 1980s Europe, at least for me.
The protagonists don’t take shit from anyone, and while they retain various faults of youth (the main thing that bothered me was how they fucked with fast food workers, like don’t mess with customer service people, just don’t do it, that’s so shitty regardless of the company they work for, they have no control over things), they are all so damn cute and smart and talented it’s really easy to root for them. The film as a whole may be categorized as drama, but I’d say it’s equal parts drama and comedy, because it’s really just showing the ups and downs of regular daily life for these girls. With healthy doses of rocking out, of course. So much rocking out!
Pair This Movie With: Of course another movie about teen girl rockers would be a perfect follow-up. Thematically I would recommend Ladies and Gentlemen, The Fabulous Stains or Linda Linda Linda as pairings. Rock n’ Roll High School would be a fun choice as well.by