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‘Moxie’ Doesn’t Have Too Much of It

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Amy Poehler’s latest film “Moxie,” based on Jennifer Mathieu’s young adult novel of the same name, hit Netflix on March 3. “Moxie” currently sits in the top 10 on the streaming service, despite it ultimately falling short of being a great film; it had great intentions and a solid cast, but lacked a steady structure and script. 

The film follows 16-year-old Vivian, (Hadley Robinson) who is inspired to form a feminist club called “Moxie” after being reminded of a Bikini Kill song that her mother Lisa (Amy Poehler) introduced her to years ago. She is driven by the realization that the annual “school list,” which is formed by the jocks of the high school, is actually very sexist and demeaning. The list gives “ranks,” otherwise known as degrading titles, to the girls of the high school, which somehow goes completely unnoticed by the school’s faculty. Though Poehler aims at a rebellious and punk rock sense of activism towards gender equality in a hostile high school, a movie that tackles racism, transphobia, sexism and sexual harassment should have done much more.

A lot of the commentary in the film is either misdirected or exaggerated, and it could have done better in giving an actual and realistic voice to feminism. With a comment complaining about the American flag just being on a person’s car to one high schooler complaining about how the King card is worth more than a Queen, much of the dialogue was a bit corny. 

The cliche portrayal of a biased administrator Marlene (Marcia Gay Harden) is reminiscient of the overdone cheesy character from Disney Channel movies like “Radio Rebel (2012)” and “Lemonade Mouth (2011).” Because of this, Harden’s overexaggerated character makes audience members feel more frustration than relatability. While girls in real life face unfair gender-guided dress codes such as not being able to wear tank tops in school, most principals wouldn’t call out just one girl in front of an entire class because she has more cleavage than another girl. “Moxie” has too much of this corny and overdone material, making it more like “Radio Rebel (2012)” than what most of the audience would hope for from a progressive feminist movie — especially one done by a comedic classic like Poehler. 

Unfortunately, the lead character Vivian ends up being unlikable as she maintains a holier-than-thou attitude instead of trying to get people to understand her side, like she did with her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai). 

Though the two friends are on the same page at the beginning of the movie as they talk about the school list and other girls’ appearances, once Vivian discovers the Bikini Kill song with lyrics that motivate her to be a “Rebel Girl,” she blindly believes she’s better than her friend. She then goes on to ignore Claudia instead of sharing her ideas. Vivian seems to be trying to make up for her years of ignorance by criticizing others and lashing out at her mother for nothing instead of self-reflecting.

Vivian should have self-reflected on her white privilege that is briefly pointed out by Claudia;  she tells Vivian that she wouldn’t understand the pressure of being a Chinese immigrant who had to fight for her opportunities. Instead of owning up to this privilege and using it to give her character growth, Robinson’s character isn’t given a moment of reflection and merely gives a shocked face to this statement. 

Another unlikable character — but for very different reasons — is Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger); Schwarzenegger, who is 27 years old, clearly looks his age and therefore appears silly in his varsity jacket. The audience ends up hating the well-played sexist within seconds of his appearance on the screen. Unfortunately, because of his cartoonish portrayal of a popular high schooler and the fact that he looks like he could be a teacher at that school, Schwarzenegger’s performance comes off as if he were acting in an SNL skit and he was the youngest cast member that they could find.

The most likeable characters of the film would include Vivian’s love interest and fellow feminist Seth (Nico Hiraga) and new student Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña). It’s a wonder why Vivian would be the main character instead of Lucy, who recognized the misogyny at the high school right away. She is also an actual outspoken feminist who encourages her peers in a more proactive way. 

Usually in movies like this, the newbie would likely be the main focus — especially since this character was a major catalyst towards the formation of the Moxie club. As a Black actress, Pascual-Peña would have made a better center for empowering Black female voices. Although the casting directors did a good job in employing a diverse cast, the film itself doesn’t completely resolve the white privilege that is only pointed out very briefly. 

One of the last few moments of the film gives a voice to an unnamed Black student, who announces that she is 110% Black and proud. This is then followed by Lucy supporting her, and telling her peers to stop touching their hair, which was to demonstrate how racism can be expressed in ways that some people would not think is inherently racist. This brief moment at the end of the movie is disappointing because it seems like the writers wanted to throw it in before it was too late. If Lucy had been the main character, then a louder and more recognizable voice for Black women would have been present. Instead, the plot lacks in achieving a likable personality for Vivian as the audience knows that she only began this club because of a song, and the actual real reason behind “Moxie” was Lucy. 

Another strong performance was by Josephine Langford, as she portrayed high schooler Emma who had a constant apprehension towards joining the club throughout the film. She could have been written into the plot more as she ended up playing a very large role in the movie, but unfortunately, the writers saved this bit for the last few minutes. Another example of this lazy scriptwriting would be from the character CJ, played by transgender actress Josie Totah, who tries out for the high school’s upcoming musical. However, the audience doesn’t even see if she lands the role. 

Like most of what happens in the film, most problems feel as if they are being checked off a list, as the writers decided it was best to save most of their time for the subplot of an unimportant school athletic contest. It feels like Poehler wanted to be progressive in her casting choices and subject matter, but became overwhelmed by the subplots. It was disappointing to see, considering the film should have portrayed intersectional feminism, encouraging every female voice.

Overall, the film did a good job in having characters realize that just because something is normalized doesn’t mean it is right. It also did a good job in bringing together a diverse group of girls who share similar ideologies. However, the execution of some of the film’s heavy material could have been done in an effectively powerful way. In the end, most of the real and raw moments, unfortunately, happen near the film’s ambiguous ending. If a viewer is curious about what happens after the end of the film, as there are many, many plot holes, the book will hopefully help them out with this dilemma. 

Chloe Geschwind is an arts and entertainment intern for the winter 2021 quarter. She can be reached at cgeschwi@uci.edu.