Now more than ever is female representation in cinema flourishing. Sometimes, the lines between feminism as a political ideology and a genre in cinema can be blurred for viewers. A clear distinction should be made that films with a female protagonist don’t necessarily equate as a “feminist film”. While there can be feminist undertones in a film or strong female characters, we struggle to fully brand them as such. On the subject of comedian Amy Poehler’s high school dram-comedy “Moxie”, though, there is zero ambiguity here.
The film is 100% geared as a progressive feminist critique of rape culture and systemic sexism within schools and it is not afraid to scream out its message. One that steadily rides the waves of the #MeToo cultural movement. While the film’s convictions are clear, we are here ask one important question: Is “Moxie” a good film? For that we’re going to need to take a deeper look.
The story of “Moxie” follows Vivian Carter. A wallflower in high school who lives with her single, liberal mother. In East Rockport High School, boys create lists of attractive female students and female sexual harassment is largely ignored if not played off with levity. A place where the “boys will be boys” mentality is so rampant, the girls of the school have grown accustomed to it. That is until Vivian, with some inspiration from her new friend Lucy, decide to take up the moniker of Moxie. Through the power of mass media and pamphlets, she awakens the female population of Rockport to their oppression. It’s time for the revolution to begin!
The plot of the film isn’t terribly original but we will admit that there is a ton of heart here. The film does address serious issues about objectification, double standards for different genders and even racial intersectionality. The only problem is it’s all delivered in such a painfully obvious manner. There is no subtlety or nuance in the way the film explains its ideology. It’s less of a film with living, breathing characters and experiences revolving around gender issues than it is a propaganda piece with a story. Beyond Vivian, there is little to no characterization to the other cast members here. It seems like everyone in “Moxie” lives to be a totems for specific social archetypes or to be part of a mob.
Characters like Vivian’s Black and Chinese friends Lucy and Claudia serve to be analogs for the idea of intersectionality. The concept that women of colour live far more difficult lives than their Caucasian sisters. Due to the fact they have to face gender discrimination and racial inequality at the same time. Which is perfectly fine…until the film decides to send the plot into a screeching halt just to make that point! The film also comments about how systems protect and enable rape culture through the film’s main antagonist Mitchell Wilson and Principal Marlene Shelly.
Mitchell serves as the irredeemable sexist, male-chauvinist jock and Marlene as the craven, materialist enabler. The film refuses to afford these reprehensible individuals any screen-time that isn’t showing them as complete monsters. Don’t get us wrong, these people probably do exist in real life but Poehler and company do no favours for themselves by turning them into caricatures. Arguably, it hurts the film’s case.
That being said, we’re not immune to the film’s charms when it decides to launch into one of its impassioned diatribes against the patriarchy and gender discrimination. It’s clear that the filmmakers a passionate about their subject matter, it’s just such a shame that it views human agency as a hindrance rather than a help to its storytelling.
The one thing that the film does manage to capture very well is the anxiety women feel in the face sexual harassment. There were moments in which we had genuine panic attacks! The way it slowly ratchets up from catcalls to non-consensual touching to straight assault poignantly captures the silent terror women encounter in their day-to-day lives.
So as far as dramatic weight goes, it’s a mixed bag with the film valuing its principles over its story. How does it fare as a comedy? Yeah…it’s not very funny at all. A lot of the humour in the film relies on Vivian’s mother Lisa Carter, played by director Amy Poehler. She plays the fun, liberal, mother who has adorkable bits and conversations with her daughter. It’s not grating per se but neither is it very amusing. Poehler, alongside Tina Fey and Julia Louis-Dreyfus, is one of the funniest women in comedy. Which is precisely why it’s so frustrating to see her flounder here.
Still at the very least, she’s memorable. Everyone else unfortunately delivers an utterly forgettable performance. Even the film’s star Hadley Robinson fails to win us over as Vivian. Her character’s transformation from quiet, shy teen to empowered leader feels far too rushed and unearned. Oh and much like another Netflix high school film, “To All The Boys: Always and Forever“, it relies on musical montages to convey character growth.
Please, stop doing that! Don’t be lazy and write actual situations. Actor Patrick Schwarzenegger as Mitchell does an excellent job of making his character feel smug and punchable. If only he had better material to back up his role in the film. The real breakout star here is actress Lauren Tsai as Vivian’s friend Claudia. This lady has a future in playing manic-pixie dream girls in high school films and YA novel adaptations.
Amy Poehler’s “Moxie” delivers an important message in one of the clumsiest and most ham-fisted ways possible. It’ll definitely get uproarious cheer from the choir but as provocative cinema, it won’t win anyone over with its barebones plot, unremarkable moral puppets or its uninspired dialogue. Roll this out as an after-school special for teenagers and nothing else. If you are curious to check out “Moxie”, you can it catch on Netflix streaming services right now.
So what did you think of “Moxie”? Do you agree with the film’s message of female empowerment? Or did you find it to be a load of SJW propaganda nonsense? In any case, be sure to let us know in the comments down below.
Netflix's Moxie Review
Amy Poehler's "Moxie" delivers an important message in one of the clumsiest and most ham-fisted ways possible. It'll definitely get uproarious cheer from the choir but as provocative cinema, it won't win anyone over with its barebones plot, unremarkable moral puppets or its uninspired dialogue. Roll this out as an after-school special for teenagers and nothing else.
- Netflix's Moxie Review