Every now and then a film comes along that’s so bad you can only respect it. So with Moxie, the new Netflix IQ-depleter directed by Amy Poehler, about a bland young woman’s discovery of feminism.
Hadley Robinson plays Vivian, a flaxen-haired overachiever at Rockport High – almost brick for brick the school from Sex Education – who has a humdrum life until a rad new pupil arrives to shake things up. She is Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña), who has moved from the Bay Area to leafy suburbia where she has to contend with attitudes that are horrifyingly unreformed. Lucy’s after r-e-s-p-e-c-t; she’s tired of reading old white guys and wants a syllabus that takes in more of the American experience; fair enough. But the school is congealed in its sexist, racist ways, and try as she might to instigate a more modern culture, the tides are against her.
Vivian is radicalised by the experience of watching her cool new pal contend with sexist bullying, particularly by the school’s arsehole jock, played by Patrick Schwarzenegger, son of Arnie. In a pritt-stick fit, Lucy starts a zine – a pamphlet, basically – to disseminate thunderously obvious feminist ideas that have only just meandered across the vacant soundscapes of her mind. She leaves her ugly little zine in the school loos, in the hope that her fellow pupils will read it. They do.
The film is an adaptation of the 2017 YA book by Jennifer Mathieu. It’s not hard to see why it was greenlit – Amy Poehler is one of the funniest women alive, and there’s a rich tradition of brilliant high school movies that this film does its darndest to traduce. In one snippet, Vivian even name-drops Mean Girls: a cruel reminder of what this movie might have achieved.
NICO HIRAGA AS SETH, AMY POEHLER AS LISA (SHE’S ALSO THE DIRECTOR/PRODUCER) AND HADLEY ROBINSON AS VIVIAN
So what’s gone wrong? Mainly it’s the script. It’s aggressively, boldly unfunny. Actually, that’s not fair: there’s a decent joke about 10 minutes in where Vivian’s mum, played by Poehler, encounters a guy in a supermarket who doesn’t know the difference between leeks and chives. Lol! But other than that, the gruel is thin.
The central performances too are limp and unconvinced. The high school ‘pupils’ look like they’re in their mid to late twenties; particularly Nico Hiraga, who plays Vivian’s bouncy love interest: the type of slushpuppy who’d wear a feminist t-shirt and who makes a real meal of his right-on credentials.
The main problem, though, is that the film is screamingly politically correct. The good guys are the carefully-diverse gang of gals who decide to take on the sexism embedded in the student body. The baddies are the square-jawed sports bros and the school authorities, shown aiding and abetting a climate of supposed misogyny. The embryonic feminists’ main beef is that the school dress code seems to be applied more fiercely to female pupils than male ones. It’s not a cause I’d jump on a stake for.
LAUREN TSAI AS CLAUDIA AND HADLEY ROBINSON AS VIVIAN
Before watching the film, I got the wrong end of the stick from someone who told me about it, and thought it was about a young woman at a high school who starts a zine actually promoting anti-feminist thought. So I settled down with some interest. But alas it’s the opposite. And the ‘feminism’ promulgated here is so milky and tripled-sugared it’s almost dangerous; I can imagine many a spunky young woman starting to hate the cause after 30 minutes of this torture.
There are one or two redeeming features – the soundtrack is okay, perked up by Tierra Whack, and the costumes are decent – but really this is a flaming failure to be skirted at all costs.