Moxie is a 2021 film directed by Amy Poehler based on a 2015 book by Jennifer Mathieu. It’s about a young girl named Vivian (played by Hadley Robinson) who decides to start an underground zine in her school as a way of promoting feminist ideals in their extremely sexist school and encouraging her classmates to speak out against sexism in the class.
As a coming-of-age film, Moxie is competent and professional, with some exceptionally shot moments that find the right music and tone to underscore the teenage emotions of falling in love. Possibly the most iconic moment of the film is the first date between Vivian and feminist classmate Seth (played by Nico Hiraga), which culminates in an extremely romantic image of the two of them lying down in a coffin together, listening to music. Some of these scenes are entertaining, and they provide a watchable visualization of Vivian’s struggle to become her own person.
Vivian’s struggle, however, does feel quite uninspired. None of it is new, really, and films about selfish teenagers learning empathy and community have been done better and more insightfully in recent films like Booksmart and Blockers, or past films like Superbad, The Breakfast Club, and Dead Poets Society. To differentiate from those past films, Moxie tries to tie Vivian’s struggles explicitly with the modern-day view of the feminist movement. Theoretically, this should give the film some gravity.
It does not.
The problem with the film is that, while it tries to present an intersectional, fourth-wave view of feminism in action for high schoolers everywhere, it is still centered around a white person. Everyone else acts only as passive observers that serve the plot of Vivian finding herself, and it makes it very frustrating to watch and care about. A story like this would’ve been better from the perspective of Lucy (played by Alycia Pascual-Peña), the new girl in town who gets harassed by popular football player Mitchell (played by Patrick Schwarzenegger), or Claudia (played by Lauren Tsai), a person tied up with familial obligation and expectation, thus unable to protest freely and with little consequence like Vivian is doing.
Centering it around Vivian pushes away the current discussions about the needs of feminism today, which includes the recognition of transwomen as women, as well as the acknowledgment and tackling of non-Western feminist struggles. If the film was trying to be a critique on how selfish Vivian has been, it’s an ineffective one: all the criticisms that were given to her are swept aside by the finale, where a protest against an anonymous student’s rape becomes a validation of Vivian’s importance, with everyone in the ensemble forgiving her terrible behavior and treatment of them.
This film feels insulting in how it treats serious topics like rape and targeted harassment. It accidentally makes hollow the story of how Vivian reignited the fires of societal justice inside her classmates, like the “girl power” movement that promoted capitalist success for women without fixing the classist inequality that exists within the current system. It’s feminism that works with the system, not against it, a version of riot grrrl that aims for respectability instead of anger. We should be angry that these women got harassed and raped while keeping silent out of fear, but the movie ends up treating it like a feel-good story with a victory in the end, which is insulting to the many people in the world who never got the justice and happy ending that this film peddles.
Moxie is a film that is good on paper. In an age of massive social upheaval, where people are battling misinformation to secure their human rights, why shouldn’t we make a film that focuses on updating the text of social movements for a new generation? People still need to be informed, and something like this could inspire younger women to take up the mantle and keep the fight going for future generations.
But films like these need to be more daring, not less. It shouldn’t be about how we can co-exist with the system as it is, but the ways we can topple the system of injustice. Moxie needed that anger to work. Without it, it’s just another sanitized studio film that pays lip service to social injustices.
We’ve had enough of those.
Moxie is streaming on Netflix