Moxie review – a broad high school “comedy” from Amy Poehler

March 3, 2021
Jonathon Wilson 0
Film Reviews, Netflix
2

Summary

Moxie has its heart in the right place, but its determined lack of comedy and simplistic ideas undermine what it’s trying to do.

2

Summary

Moxie has its heart in the right place, but its determined lack of comedy and simplistic ideas undermine what it’s trying to do.

For a movie described as a high-school comedy, much less one directed by SNL and Parks and Recreation’s Amy Poehler, you’d expect Netflix’s Moxie to be much funnier than it is. Then again, the film has also been intermittently described as a “coming-of-rage” story, an identity it embraces much more enthusiastically than anything else since it’s about a number of serious topics and wants to be as serious about them as possible.

But still, it could really stand to be funny. That kind of comic energy helps to take the edge off solid high-school comedies like Booksmart, which are still very much about things but not in a preachy, self-involved way. It’s hard to like Moxie sometimes. Its righteous version of Gen Z outrage leaves no room for subtlety or nuance and creates false equivalencies between say, outright bullying and sexism and quibbling with The Great Gatsby still being on the school syllabus. When impassioned new girl Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) argues that there is no reason to read stories about privileged white men anymore, it’s the boorish jock villain, Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger), who leaps to the novel’s defense. Having the football stand-out also be interested in classic literature isn’t an attempt to break down the cliché of the star athlete, it’s a way to lazily equate his stance with all of his other obnoxious qualities and the way the school itself indulges them.

Moxie isn’t about Lucy, but Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a smart, buttoned-up teenager who experiences a feminist awakening in part inspired by Lucy but also by the discovery that her mother (Poehler in a thankless role) has a rebellious activist past. Inspired, Vivian anonymously creates the titular Moxie, a feminist zine that is printed and distributed around the school and starts a kind of minor uprising, turning the cliques on their heads and dovetailing a personal coming-of-age journey with a wider, obviously necessary conversation about sex, race, and other important issues. It’s adapted from Jennifer Mathieu’s YA novel by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, and since I haven’t read the source, I can’t say whether or not the broadly archetypal school setting is a direct lift or a dumbing-down. Either way, the halls seem to be populated exclusively by simplistic caricatures, from Mitchell, the worst offender, to Vivian’s unflinchingly supportive ally love interest, Seth (Nico Hiraga).

Any depth is reserved for Vivian, and the film is at its best when it challenges her. When her long-time best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) checks her on her white-girl privilege, it feels like Moxie is making a strong point, and an extended sequence during which Vivian goes ballistic and starts berating Seth, her mother, and her mother’s perfectly nice new boyfriend is explicitly designed to make her look childish and ridiculous. But it ultimately lets her off the hook by vindicating all her outbursts and reckless behavior with a finale that should play as cathartic but mostly seems glib and contrived. Moxie is on the right side of things, but it sands down the rougher edges of social justice in favor of a childish and ultimately useless idealism.

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