Sunday, June 21, 2015
We are the Best!
At the end of Lukas Moodysohn's 2014 We are the Best! an outraged crowd shrieks at three thirteen-year girls, calling them "Punk cunts!" It's a measure of the easy-going benignity of We are the Best! that this insult represents a happy ending to the film. In fact, in the eyes of three teenage heroines, these words sound as an encomium -- they have achieved what they set out to do. Moodysohn's modest little film apparently derives from a graphic novel apparently written by his daughter, and concerns three seventh-grade girls who aspire to form a punk rock band. It is 1982 and disco reigns and the girls, with their unappealing haircuts, are regarded as outsider losers by their peers. At school, they sullenly refuse to participate in sports and, in fact, are inspired to form their band by their hatred of the PA teacher and their contempt for basketball. At a dingy Stockholm youth center, two of the girls seize control of the place's bass guitar and drums when the local hair band, something called Iron Fist, forgets to sign up for the rehearsal room. The two girls, Bobo and Klara, have less than zero musical talent and no idea how to play their instruments but they can make noise on them and that is enough as far as they are concerned. A third girl, also despised by the other kids because she is a Christian, knows how to play guitar -- at one point, she sings "Kum-bay-yah" -- and Bobo and Klara recruit her for their band, hacking off her long blonde hair to make her look like them, that is, like boys with bad, spiky haircuts. We are the Best! is casually shot and resolutely faithful to its anarchic, punk sensibility -- nothing is proven in the movie, no hearts or minds are changed about anything, and Klara and Bobo never do learn to play their instruments. There is a vestigial plot about the girls competing for an equally hapless and forlorn group of boys in a punk band, but that narrative exists merely to confirm the ultimate loyalty of the heroines to one another. The closest thing that the film offers to a narrative arc is the girl's half-hearted participation in something called "Santa Rock", a rock and roll "battle of the bands" in a suburb called Vasteras. While the kids in Iron Fist smirk, the girls take the stage, unleash their anthem about detesting High School sports, and, when the crowd begins hurling insults at them, improve the chorus to their song , changing it from"Hate, Hate, Hate, Sport" to "Hate, Hate, Hate, Vasteras!" -- this predictably leads to a riot, the girls screaming invective as the crowd tries to storm the stage and shut them down. This is the film's happy ending. On the bus returning to Stockholm, the girls tell the two dudes who are the teen center counselors: "We are the best!" The dimwitted counselors respond: "No you are the worst! Iron Fist is the best!" and the film ends. I like a number of things about this movie -- it's bluntly realistic, without being hysterical or maudlin, about the cruelty of teenagers: everyone casually bullies everyone else including the two loser heroines who relentlessly bully the Christian girl who has joined their band. The adults shown in the film are not evil nor do they misunderstand the girls -- they are simply irrelevant to anything important in their lives. (We see the adults, all of them cheerful and good-looking thirty-somethings, playing 'spin-the-bottle' and getting loaded at various unpleasant parties.) The girls don't miraculously become anything like good musicians for the climactic concert -- they remain pathetically untalented and clueless. And, of course, there's no heartwarming validation by an audience that the girls have achieved anything. There is not much in the movie and it has no ambitions to speak of -- it's not Zero de Conduit that's for sure. But there's truth in the movie, the people seem real, and it's not mean-spirited: people are stupid but not wicked. And, if you're interested in punk rock, the film is imbued with the spirit of that music.