Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Lucas Moodyson
Stars: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv Lemoyne, Charlie Falk, Johan Lijemamark, Mattias Wiberg, Jonathan Salomonsson, Alvir Strollo, Anna Rydgren, David Dencik, Ann-Sofie Rase, Peter Eriksson, Lena Carlsson.
During the recent Melbourne International Film Festival I saw two coming of age films about kids putting together a punk band. The first was a coming of age drama from Mexico, called We Are Mari Pepa, which dealt with four teenage boys playing in a punk rock band. But this was a fairly disappointing film that ultimately went nowhere. By contrast the second film was this great, exuberant Swedish drama/comedy about three young girls forming a punk band, despite little in the way of real musical talent. We Are The Best! captured that anarchic structure, the anger, energy and rebellious spirit that characterised the punk rock era, and was a lot of fun.
There are some superficial similarities between these two films. But thanks to the involvement of Swedish writer/director Lukas Moodysson, better known for his edgy films like Show Me Love (aka F***ing Amal), this is an entertaining look at the punk scene of Stockholm in the mid 80s, but it has a broad appeal and deals with some universal themes. It is also obvious that Moodyson cares deeply for his central characters.
We Are The Best! is based on the semi-autobiographical comic book Never Goodnight written by Moodysson’s wife Coco, which was itself inspired by her own experiences growing up in Stockholm during the 80s. This gives the character driven film both an authenticity and a nostalgic quality. We Are The Best! also has a poignant quality, and a lot more edge and heart as well as a darker sense of humour.
The film is set in Stockholm in 1982. Best friends Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are two 13-year old tomboyish girls who are heavily into punk music, even though most people tell them that punk is dead. They proudly wear their androgynous look, with oversized clothes and short punk styled hair cuts, and they also have plenty of attitude to match. They are largely outsiders at school.
On a whim they decide to put together a band at the local recreation centre where they occasionally hang out. But they lack any real talent, and they have only one song – the raucous anthem Hate The Sport – until they convince Helvig (Liv LeMoyne) to join them. A supposedly good Christian girl who can play guitar, and also something of an outsider at school, Helvig helps the two shape their music, and they begin to prepare for a Battle of the Bands competition.
Bobo is also infatuated with Klara’s older brother Linus (Charlie Falk). But when both Bobo and Klara develop a crush on Elis (Jonathan Salamonsson) from a local boy punk band, tensions rise that temporarily threaten to derail their modest ambitions. Helvig is the steadying influence that holds them together.
This is an honest, funny and emotionally complex film that looks at themes of teenage rebellion, friendship, loyalty, trust, family, the angst, innocence and insecurity of girls on the cusp of adolescence. The film has a free-flowing, episodic and aimless style, that somehow suits the material. Moodysson and his cinematographer Ulf Brantas also give the material a sense of urgency and infectious energy through the use of handheld cameras. We also get glimpses into the domestic lives of the three girls, their eccentric families and their parents who have their own problems and issues to deal with, which gives us further insights into their characters. School, parties, the local recreation centre, families, and their friendships all play a part in shaping the girls on their journey.
Moodyson’s earlier films revealed a great sense of compassion and understanding for teenaged girls, and these qualities enhance We Are The Best! He draws superb and naturalistic performances from the three leads, who are all newcomers, and their enthusiastic and unaffected performances enrich the film. There is great chemistry between Barkhammar and Grosin which gives the film its strong emotional core. Some of the dialogue also seems improvised, which gives the material an unrehearsed, spontaneous feel that perfectly fits the anarchic and rebellious spirit of the film. There is also a great soundtrack of Scandinavian punk songs. You don’t even have to be a fan of punk rock to be caught up in the energy and enthusiasm of these three girls.
We Are The Best! is Moodyson’s first film since 2009, and this real crowd pleaser is easily his most accessible and enjoyable film for a decade!