Whilst it would be churlish to say that Lukas Moodysson has ever really been away, it’s still possible to proclaim his return with the irresistible We Are the Best! (2013). Adapted from the loosely autobiographical graphic novel by his wife, Coco, it’s difficult not to be reminded of the authenticity and charm of Moodysson’s 1998 debut, Show Me Love. Expertly combining a youthful desire for agency and rebellion with the death throes of the Swedish punk movement, it’s a heart-warming tale with three captivating performances from its young female leads. The bespectacled Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and the mohawked Klara (Mira Grosin) form a friendship based on mutual feelings of adolescent exclusion.
Suffering the age-old struggles of adolescents, they bond over their respective humiliating parents and scorn received from their classmates. Despite a distinct lack of musical talent or experience, they somewhat unexpectedly form a punk band which will allows them an outlet for their ire about – amongst other things – their hatred of P.E. at school. Hate the Sport! becomes their anthem, and the film follows their travails, along with new bandmate Hedwig (Liv LeMoyne) as they prepare for their first public performance. Everything from the hand-held camerawork of Moodysson’s regular cinematographer Ulf Brantås, to the performances from the trio of newcomers, is shot through naturalism and an infectious vibrancy. The director has previous form with young actors and works his magic once again here.
Each of the three teens manages to perfectly encapsulate the crippling unease of pubescence both in their familial setting and also when they find themselves on a group date with an all-male teen punk band. Recognisable issues (such as these boys) threaten to open fissures in their friendships, particularly between the more intelligent Bobo and natural centre of attention, Klara. These confrontations and dilemmas are all imbued with knowing humour that keeps things light, even though situations and events carry emotional heft. It’s when the three girls are all singing from the same song sheet, however, that We Are the Best! is at its strongest. Punk may be dead, but thankfully someone forgot to tell Moodysson and his endlessly appealing protagonists, who leave audiences with a smile imprinted on their faces.