After a string of intriguing but less compelling experimental detours, We Are the Best! finds Lukas Moodysson returning to the remarkable, youthful insights of Show Me Love and Together. During the opening scene, the filmmaker provides immediate, if uneasy, access to his young protagonist, Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), who grumpily wanders through her mother’s 40th birthday party, being complimented for her “cute” haircut, but wanting nothing more than to rap via telephone with her best friend, Klara (Mira Grosin). Thirteen, rebellious, and borderline obsessed with punk music, the girls decide to form an all-girl band with the help of Hedwig (Live LeMoyne), a shy, Christian girl whose mother couldn’t be less approving of her newfound friends.
Moodysson achieves a wonderful feat by refusing to place his three protagonists in situations that would easily codify any of their anxieties, whether artistic or sexual. Adapted from the graphic novel by his wife, Coco Moodysson, the early-’80s Stockholm setting could lend itself to easier formations of nostalgia or mere time-period gags, but Moodysson avoids nearly all of this entirely by keeping his DIY aesthetic focused on the girls and their sense of unbridled enthusiasm for enacting a pent-up but healthy rage through music. When Bobo learns that her mother’s relationship has ended and that she’s already seeing another man, Bobo’s response is one of quiet confession to Klara: “She’s got a new guy again.” Klara responds, simply, “Good for her,” and the conversation moves on, though the beats and timing of the scene intimate Bobo’s repressive choice to drop the topic, rather than discuss it for any semblance of closure.
Likewise, a confrontation with the rock band Iron Fist leads to verbal jousting, but there’s never any sense that this moment is intended to foreshadow more literal violence. That is, the misogynistic comments by the band’s members aren’t easily resolved by violence; rather, the enduring spirit of the girls prevails, whose “hate sport!” anthem alleviates an unnecessarily stringent resolution. In a sign of his progression as a filmmaker, Moodysson doesn’t resort to tidy or abrupt resolution for narrative jolt; it’s already embedded within the fabric of his mise-en-scéne.
Moodysson is too prone, however, to relying on vérité formal structures throughout, as quick zooms, swish pans, and jump cuts consistently play as requisite rather than directed toward the specificities of a scene. An otherwise excellently written scene wherein the three girls sit together and drink at a party is too predictably mushed together in the editing room, as Moodysson prioritizes the scene’s energy over the characters’ interiority, whose drunken state is too easily expressed by the haphazardly chopped-together visual style. A solid exception to this is a scene in which Bobo and Klara give a punk-style haircut to Hedwig and then apologize to her mother, who threatens to call the police. Here, the scene slows down and is given a meaningful pacing through measured rather than random cuts; Moodysson concludes in a thoughtfully understated manner that causes the two girls to convincingly confront the possibility that their sense of rebellion may have a degree of conformity built into it as well.
We Are the Best! allows its trio of girls to express themselves through gender, certainly, but not undermine their desire to be heard as artists first. When the girls refuse their status as a “girl band” near the end of the film, it’s an acutely rendered moment of pop feminism, mainly because Moodysson hasn’t employed it for political purposes; instead, it’s befitting of his angsty but affectionate portrayal of youthful dissatisfaction amid a climate of political and social illogic that forgets (or ignores) artistic ambition and prowess in favor of reinstating hegemonic structures. Although ultimately slight, We Are the Best! offers a convincing reminder for the necessity of unsquelched individual-as-communal expression.