Amy Poehler‘s directorial effort, Moxie, brings back teenagers to the breakthrough movement of the bygone era fused with current issues. It’s suddenly a DIY fanzine era again, with teen angst and niche poured all over, to send a sharp message. With themes revolving around bullying along with patriarchal and rape culture in US schools, you can almost observe the director’s footprints here and there — without more aggressive whimpers than barks.
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This is Poehler reminiscing her youth using poignant materials from Jennifer Mathieu‘s novel. For that, she has to be in the story and she does — portraying the protagonist’s mother whose rebellious past inspires the movement. Her on-screen involvement is more of a statement than a necessity; but, she knows the boundaries. Besides, Moxie is a vault for up-and-coming young actors to come out of the shell and make a statement of their own — just like how ‘Moxie’ stands in the story.
Moxie comes into existence as a response to systemic bullying and ignorance rooted in a patriarchal culture that has long lived in the school. Vivian (Hadley Robinson), an ordinary student and daughter of Poehler‘s single mother character, gets irked with the constant sexist treatment and female objectification towards female students by their male counterparts who seem to always get away with it. Her sheer disgust culminates after witnessing school jock, Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenneger in an epitome of white privilege fashion) bullies and mansplains a new student, Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña). She then anonymously creates Moxie as a form of protest. Unbeknownst to her, it immediately grows as a social movement — thanks to the power of social media — and outgrows Vivian’s reputation as a good student.
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In the process, Moxie doesn’t quite offer anything new or radical to the continuous discourse. Even, at some points, it feels as if the narrative missed a beat or two. Poehler‘s directorial focus on making the story light and accessible may take its toll in delivering a potentially powerful message with a bare minimum whimper. With Vivian reevaluating his roles in the movement she ignites, the narrative has the opportunity to explore one aspect rarely elaborated in Hollywood films. Vivian has to look back at the comfort of his white privilege that could have helped her escape from any disruption she has caused. This notion is exercised through her strained relationship with her best friend, Claudia (Lauren Tsai), and an ally of the movement, Seth (Nico Hiraga) — both lack the privilege she has. And yet, Moxie never delves deeper beyond the surface to explore the one thing it might have been the best shot at.
Moxie dives into its complex theme with mild tenacity and playfulness, instead of anger that usually paints stories like this. Robinson leads the young ensembles with certain confidence; but, her portrayal feels like a shell of the director’s persona and attitude towards the theme. She manages to give this film a conflicting perspective and the right amount of cutesy, especially when her character gets tangled in romantic endeavors. Moxie might not be as feisty as it should be; but, its happy-go-lucky nature and light narrative are still enjoyable as they deliver the message at a bare minimum.