- Share this article on Facebook
- Share this article on Twitter
- Share this article on Email
- Show additional share options
- Share this article on Print
- Share this article on Comment
- Share this article on Whatsapp
- Share this article on Linkedin
- Share this article on Reddit
- Share this article on Pinit
- Share this article on Tumblr
The premise of Netflix’s new teen drama Moxie — of a present-day 11th-grader taking inspiration from her mom’s Riot Grrrl memorabilia to make her school more hospitable for girls through an anonymous feminist zine — is at once wholly plausible and a transparent Gen X fantasy of its cultural relevance to Gen Z.
Teenagers today have ready access to more female-forward content and analysis — on issues from the relatively trivial to the supremely grave, via any number of publications and platforms — than any of them could consume in a lifetime. A smarter movie might have asked why that thriving, glossy, youth-oriented pop-feminist industrial complex (that likely powered the Booksmart duo’s adoration of RBG) is less resonant to the female students at Rockport High than the DIY booklet of rage and rants that Vivian (Hadley Robinson) secretly stacks in the girls’ bathrooms, hoping to find like-minded allies. But Moxie exists in its own self-contained universe — one that bears little resemblance to our own.
RELEASE DATE Feb 03, 2021
Though it co-stars director Amy Poehler as Vivian’s mom, Moxie is definitely not the Saturday Night Live alum’s Mean Girls (which gets a name-check here). Jokes are scattered about, but Poehler’s follow-up to 2019’s wispy Wine Country is a thoroughly earnest affair — the feature equivalent of a white feminist giving her daughter or niece or younger self a heartfelt (if self-consciously intersectional) pep talk about the importance of standing up for oneself and for what’s right. It’s the kind of movie that needs a feather-light touch or plenty of humor to avoid feeling overly parental. Moxie has neither.
Adapted from Jennifer Mathieu’s 2017 novel of the same name, the movie at least gives its protagonist the kind of thorny love triangle I wish more stories about teen girls would tackle: the arrival of a new confidant that unexpectedly challenges best friendships. Vivian has been besties with Claudia (Lauren Tsai) since preschool, but new girl Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) brings out a more assertive and political side of Vivian that Claudia’s seldom seen. Vivian is partly galvanized by seeing the small injustices at her school through a fresh pair of eyes — namely those of Lucy, who’s targeted for her outspokenness (and probably her race) by Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger), the captain of the football team and a favorite of the status quo-enforcing Principal Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden).
Through her zine (which she names “Moxie”), Vivian poses as just another shy, studious girl by day and attempts to launch a small-scale revolution by night, proposing protests against sexist school policies, like dress codes that primarily penalize girls. It’s the students of color — minus Claudia — who’ve never been appreciated by the administration or favored by their fellow students who cotton to the zine’s message of resistance first. But the Instagram demonstrations and classroom walkouts soon spiral into bigger and more overt challenges to the school’s microaggressive culture — a change that thrills Vivian, but puts a virtual bounty on the identity of the person behind the publication.
Screenwriters Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer eventually deepen Vivian as a character by making her fallible — her righteousness sometimes curdles into sanctimony, especially when the growing feminist consciousness among the girls at school doesn’t quickly translate to concrete changes by the administration. (Welcome to the world, baby girl!) But newcomer Robinson frustratingly plays Vivian too much like a girl-next-door; her scenes lack a screen-commanding spark that would’ve come in especially handy during some of the film’s saggier moments. If Moxie does launch a breakout star, it’ll most likely be skater-turned-actor Nico Hiraga, who plays Vivian’s love interest Seth with laidback charm and swoon-worthy sincerity.
Mathieu’s book takes place in small-town Texas, where the adulation for football stars like Mitchell makes more sense. Poehler seems to have set her film in Anytown — a choice meant to make Moxie more universal but ends up defanging much of its bite. The discontent that the girls of Rockport High channel through Vivian’s zine feels generic, torn from newspaper headlines and magazine articles, rather than specific to its (underdeveloped) characters. And while Moxie preaches intersectionality by addressing the concerns of girls of color, a trans girl (Josie Totah), a girl who uses a wheelchair (Emily Hopper), female athletes and even the girls singled out as “hot” and desirable by the boys (Sabrina Haskett), it’s hard not to notice that they feel more like asterisks to Vivian’s feminism than part and parcel of it.
But Moxie’s biggest letdown is its meant-to-be rousing climax, which is so underwhelming and unearned it dissipates whatever goodwill the film had accrued in the preceding two hours. It’s an unfortunate encapsulation of Moxie’s good intentions and wildly uneven, ultimately deflating execution.
Cast: Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Alycia Pascual-Pena, Nico Hiraga, Amy Poehler, Marcia Gay Harden, Ike Barinholtz, Clark Gregg
Director: Amy Poehler
Producers: Kim Lessing, Amy Poehler, Morgan Sackett
Executive producer: David Hyman
Director of photography: Tom Magill
Production designer: Erin Magill
Sound designer: Wylie Stateman
Editor: Julie Monroe
Casting: Allison Jones
Rated PG-13, 111 minutes
Sign up for THR news straight to your inbox every day