Amy Poehler’s new Netflix film, Moxie, explores feminist activism among teenagers today – but does it manage to get right what so many high school films before it got wrong?
“What do 16-year-olds care about?” That’s the question Amy Poehler sets out to answer in her new Netflix film, Moxie. Comparing it to Mean Girls is perhaps an obvious thing to do, thanks to the Poehler association (she, of course, played Regina George’s “cool mom”). But the parallels are there: high school tribes, The List (which is a basically a digital update of the Burn Book), house parties with red cups and lots of vomit, and a headteacher who can’t quite accept the reality of what it’s like to be a teenage girl today.
So, as a 30-something woman who can quote the full Mean Girls script on demand (but also finds the 2004 film awkwardly problematic in parts during an annual re-watch), I was curious to see what Moxie had to say to a new generation of teenage girls. Especially as we’ve recently seen how brilliant modern high school movies can be, with other releases such as Olivia Wilde’s Booksmart and Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird.
Moxie follows the story of Vivian (Hadley Robinson), an introverted 16-year-old who has always preferred to keep her head down and fly under the radar. But when the arrival of new student Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) forces her to examine the unchecked behaviour of her fellow students running rampant at her high school (in particular, the chauvinistic sports captain Mitchell Wilson, played by Patrick Schwarzenegger), Vivian realises she’s fed up.
Inspired by her mother, Lisa (Amy Poehler), and her rebellious past, Vivian anonymously publishes an underground zine called Moxie to expose bias and wrongdoing in her high school, and it unexpectedly sparks a feminist movement. At the centre of a revolution, Vivian begins to forge new friendships with other young women and allies, reaching across the divide of cliques and clubs as they learn to navigate the highs and lows of high school together.
In many ways, Moxie does get right what 00s high school films such as Mean Girls perhaps got wrong.
The Moxie zine is a positive, smart and empowering retaliation to the bitchy Burn Book and The List. It also confidently examines difficult issues and the stigmas that surround them, including rape, sexism, racism, misogyny, manipulation and bullying. And Vivian has a male romantic interest who is way more than just “so cute” (in fact I have to admit that I’m very sad I didn’t have a feminist ally boyfriend like Seth, played by Nico Hiraga, during my teenage years). The film also gives voices to an inclusive and diverse cast, properly exploring the different cultures and upbringings of girls in 2021 America.
Moxie has a refreshing attitude, it accounts for mistakes many of us have learned from (“We were not intersectional enough, and we used the word ‘pow-wow’”, Lisa tells her daughter about her activism past), and it makes you want to wear a tank top and scream exactly what you think into a microphone. It’s basically the kind of film I’d love to sit on the sofa to watch with my younger sister.
But that’s not to say it’s perfect.
From the moment she questions why her class needs to study yet another outdated novel by a privileged white man (The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald, obviously), it’s clear that new student Lucy is the character who really inspires Vivian to spark the Moxie movement – so it might have proved more interesting to have her as the protagonist.
Also, Moxie isn’t as funny as I’d hoped – it certainly doesn’t have any zinger quotes we’ll be turning into memes for years to come. And, after an energetic opening half hour, the film loses its riotous momentum in the middle (it literally includes an unnecessary five-minute scene in a funeral parlour), then ends in a rather unremarkable way.
But it still has a brilliant message for young feminists looking to make their mark in the modern world. And that just makes me really, really excited for them.
Moxie is available to stream on Netflix from Wednesday 3 March.
Hollie is a digital writer at Stylist.co.uk, mainly covering the daily news on women’s issues, politics, celebrities and entertainment. She also keeps an ear out for the best podcast episodes to share with readers. Oh, and don’t even get her started on Outlander…