We Are The Best! (2013)
Editor’s Notes: We Are The Best! opens May 30th in Toronto (TIFF Bell Lightbox), Montreal (Cinema du Parc), Vancouver (VanCity), and June 13th in Ottawa (Bytowne Cinema) and London (Hyland Cinema).
Punk rock, real punk rock lived very briefly, burning bright and then burning out or segmenting into hardcore and new wave. For a brief few years, though, punk was more than just a musical genre, it was an active rebellion against the world as punks found it. It was more than just the music, it was a lifestyle. We Are The Best! (the rare film that earns the exclamation point in its title) picks up in 1982, past the heyday of punk to the point that even its central characters—a trio of thirteen year old girls in a punk band—are worried punk is dead. They start a band almost on a whim, as an outgrowth of the punk lifestyles they already view themselves as leading, and the band is an act of self-conception far more than its an act of musical creation.
…the band is an act of self-conception far more than its an act of musical creation.
The conventional wisdom about punk rock is that it was played by a bunch of people who never really learned to play their instruments (this was sometimes true, but just as often punk was dictated by style more than ability), but in We Are The Best! that is literally true. Bobo and Klara (Mira Barkhammar and Mira Grosin) form a band after stealing rehearsal space because the band occupying it is too loud for them to talk. Soon, they’ve written a song called about their disaffection with gym class called “Hate the Sport”—the only problem is, they have no idea how to play instruments and can’t even get on key. Enter Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a quiet Christian girl who also happens to play the guitar well. Bobo and Klara pull her into their band to teach them to play, and slowly begin to drag her into their lifestyle as well.
Writer-director Lucas Moodysson is incredibly attuned to the emotional fluctuation of his thirteen year old characters, and he follows them through ups and downs, falling outs and reconnections, alienations and bonding sessions. His script is clever and funny, but mostly it is a winning combination of adorable and grounded—the film feels tied closely to its characters’ perspective but never entirely divorced from the way their ideals are shaped by the convenience of their desires. His camera is equally attuned to the way these young women change from moment to moment. Early on, Moodysson often keeps Hedvig isolated in the frame, or blocked from our view by Klara, the group’s forceful front-woman. She doesn’t feel comfortable in her new environment, isn’t sure she’s being accepted among her new friends she worries might just be using her for her talents. Yet as the film continues, the framing shifts as various character feel connected or isolated from their tiny, insular band of outsiders. It’s a small thing, but it ties us tightly into the emotional reality of these teenagers as they navigate a social situation that can be incredibly fraught or completely consuming at the drop of a hat.
We Are The Best! eschews the idea that these ladies are outsiders by necessity—they are rebels by choice, giddy to have found each other and happy to set themselves apart from everyone around them.
We Are The Best! envelopes you in its world, invites you in to hang out with these young forces of nature, to experience their joy and their pain. It is a vibrant film, throbbing with excitement and silliness, but always with an eye toward how complicated it is to be a young person, especially a young girl, in a tight knit but volatile group where everyone is slotted into a role almost none of them chose. There’s an artful plotlessness to the proceedings, an episodic style that strings together various encounters, attempts, and tacks on an underdog ending that would feel rushed if it wasn’t constructed out of thin air by our heroes for their own edification. The throughline, if there is one here (and I’m not sure one is needed here—hanging out with Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig is engrossing enough on its own), is the slow development of “Hate the Sport” from an angsty cry accompanied by instruments being pounded into something slightly, slightly more melodic. These kids aren’t really a band yet (their supervisors insist they are a “girl band,” a label they refuse for its gender limitations, but the group doesn’t even have a name by the film’s end), but they are banded together, and that is enough to make the film something truly special.
The film feels like a sly invasion of a middle school world, where anything you have to do is by definition not cool, where yelling “Fuck You” to world leaders in a song passes for the most punk rock thing imaginable, where everything is going just fine until it isn’t, but then maybe it is again, because the world is big and confusing, but you’re big too, and more complicated than you even recognize. There are flashes of isolation and alienation here, but mostly, We Are The Best! eschews the idea that these ladies are outsiders by necessity—they are rebels by choice, giddy to have found each other and happy to set themselves apart from everyone around them. The band is an idea. The band is a lifestyle. The band is everything.
We Are The Best! envelopes you in its world, invites you in to hang out with these young forces of nature, to experience their joy and their pain. It is a vibrant film, throbbing with excitement and silliness, but always with an eye toward how complicated it is to be a young person, especially a young girl, in a tight knit but volatile group where everyone is slotted into a role almost none of them chose.