Moving away from the stark, often serious approach he’s become notorious for, Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best! (2013) is a winning Swedish coming-of-age tale about three spirited girls who form a punk band. A breezy and tender reading of Coco Moodysson’s (Lukas’ wife) semi-autobiographical graphic novel Never Goodnight, We Are the Best! may lack Moodysson’s cynical edge but makes up for it with charm and youthful vigour. Soaked and left to marinade in a consommé of adolescent nostalgia and punk rock ethics, Moodysson’s latest opens on the friendship shared by two young girls.
Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin), a pair of inseparable pals growing up in 1980s Stockholm. Both girls are obsessed with punk, listening to it on Klara’s brother’s vinyl and cutting their own hair in order to replicate the insubordinate appearance of their musical deities. Epitomising the spirit of punk – although perhaps not quite grasping its political ideology – the girls go about forming a band in order to crush the capitalist government and voice their discontentment at their P.E. teacher’s fascist coaching techniques. Their musical skills are limited so they hire local Christian and acoustic guitar prodigy Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) to teach them how to play.
Filmed through a frantic handheld style that conjures up the intimacy of a documentary, Moodysson transports us so far into the insular world of his miniature anarchists that you can almost smell the leather jackets and hair products. Fashioning a world based upon his wife’s nostalgic memoirs, evoking a sense of undiscovered teenage rebellion which, Moodysson has made a film that captures both the exuberance of youth and a genuine sense of belonging. Period details are also wonderfully implemented, with battered Walkmans, bubblegum lip-gloss and grungy knitwear fashioning a gritty eighties diorama of Cold War anxieties, dissenting voices and fashion faux pas for the girls to indulge in.
Whilst the film’s accurate representation of time and the place make for an alluring veneer of childlike revolt, it’s the heartwarming relationship shared between the girls – and the accompanying comedic asides that result from it – which makes We Are the Best! such a gratifying experience. Whilst lacking the experimentalism and gritty realism of his previous work, this shrewd and gregarious approach sugar coats the anti-establishment mentality of the era with a sentimentality that beautifully aligns with the film’s more flippant and frank comedic moments- especially the bands enlightening lyrics (“Children in Africa are dying/All you care about are balls flying.”).
As Moodysson’s We Are the Best! builds to its climax and the band get their fifteen minutes of fame at a neighbouring town’s battle of the bands, we witness Bobo, Hedvig and Klara’s final evolution from a bunch of young pretenders into a contagious rabble of anti-conformists, turning this quaint bucolic village hall into something resembling a Sex Pistols gig. Punk may well be dead, but in the insubordination of adolescence it will remain alive forever, as Moodysson’s delightful crowdpleaser so enjoyably proves.
The 57th BFI London Film Festival takes place from 9-20 October, 2013. For more of our LFF 2013 coverage, simply follow this link.