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'We Are The Best!' Proves That Punk's Not Dead

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Punk's not dead!

At least that's what 13 year-old Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) have to defiantly contend with their peers who give them long stares every day at school. It's 1982 in Stockholm, Sweden, and the girls don't have any political convictions or economic hardships that they claim to self-identify as punk rockers except for the fact that they are very much out of step with the rest of their classmates. Bobo and Klara both reject societal standards of feminine appearances with self-cut hairstyles; a tomboy look for Bobo and an eternally-unfashionable Mohawk for Klara. "You could be super cute if you'd stop looking like that," says a study partner to the two of them.

In fact, We Are The Best! goes out of its way to ensure that the punk ethos of the film isn't about hard-right or -left politics. Talk of elections are merely overheard in a conversation between drunk adults by Bobo at the very beginning of the film but are paid no mind, and Ronald Reagan and the recently-deceased Leonid Brezhnev show up later in a trite song whose lyrics are about as insightful as you'd expect for a song that goes "Reagan and Brezhnev! / FUCK OFF!" Instead, the punk culture of We Are The Best! is one of community, and one that unites outsiders in the face of a larger power. The antagonist that spurs Bobo and Klara to rise up and rebel is the drudgery of gym class, inspiring them to write a song (the catchy but charmingly crude "Hate The Sport!") and start their own band. We Are The Best! recognizes and respects that when you're a teenager who hasn't even been spit out into the world yet, you still naturally will have a gripe with anything.

The girls recruit Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) to join their band after watching her perform at yet another lame school talent show (because being in a band actually means being able to play an instrument), and it's the addition of the third member of their trio that injects another dimension to the film. Hedvig herself is also an outsider, a loner at school and also on a different wavelength from Bobo and Klara: Christian, straight-laced, and of a conventional appearance. Rounding out the ranks of the band with Hedvig reinforces the notion of punk being a unifier. Together, the three of them contend with forces both external and internal, from condescending mansplaining adults to inter-band squabbles over boys and who gets to play which instrument.

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What makes We Are The Best! such a joy to watch is that it touches on all of these ideas with such a carefree attitude appropriate for a film about three 13 year-olds. Based on the semi-autobiographical graphic novel by his wife Coco, Moodysson knows that comic book adaptations should be fun, unlike the tepid and bland superhero junk churned out by Hollywood every year. Shot handheld with a camera that is intimate without being herky-jerky and anchored by a fantastic soundtrack of early-80s Swedish punk (including Ebba Grön, a favorite discovery of the reviewer), the joyful pleasures of We Are The Best! are immediately apparent and taps into the punk rocker inside all of us.

We Are The Best! opens today at the Nuart Theatre in West Los Angeles and the Angelika Film Center and Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in New York City.