Coco Moodysson’s autobiographical 2008 graphic novel Never Goodnight related the delight and difficultly of forming a punk band, aged 13, in 1982. Along with two friends, and against the expectations of their peers and the adults around them, Moodysson created a dark and poignant tale of three friends who evince the spirit of punk at an age when change is painful, exhilarating and inevitable. Five years later the writer’s husband, the director Lukas Moodysson, was looking for a new project. Following the death of Lukas’ father, Coco felt a lighter, more upbeat film would be ideal. So, when he asked to adapt Never Goodnight, Coco’s blessing was duly given to what would become We Are the Best! (2013).
The resulting film is a joyous, energetic ode to adolescent rebellion, distinctive as much as a stylistic departure for the director as for its sheer sense of fun. Moodysson’s output has been recognisably bleak ever since 2002’s Lilya 4-Ever and so the predominantly positive mood hanging over We Are the Best! may appear as a refreshing change or a compromise of vision, depending on your preference. It’s hard to imagine anyone being immune to the charm of the film’s three young protagonists however, as drummer Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), bassist Klara (Mira Grosin) and guitarist Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) hustle their way from would-be punk stars to outright authentic musicians in their own right. In addition, each of the young girls’ domestic home lives are portrayed as unconventional in one way or another.
Bobo is seen to self-parent when her single mother’s relationship takes a downward turn, and Klara’s liberal mother and father are seen trying to join the band too, whilst guitarist Hedvig – possessed of a superior talent and enlisted by her schoolmates to teach them how to play (“What are chords?” asks Klara) – is a Christian whose calmly strict mother is horrified when her daughter is given a punk haircut. The adult presence is an inevitable source of tension in We Are the Best! at an age when autonomy is impossible, and rules and advice are a constant source of frustration, but despite their youth, Bobo, Klara and Hedvig are never patronised by Moodysson, and their struggles in school, home and the youth club portrayed as plenty to rebel against. The systems and conventions that control the girl’s lives are therefore a curse and their inspiration, perfectly captured in the very moment in which the band is born. Annoyed by the noise from the rock band practising at the youth club, Bobo and Klara effectively use the democratic system of room booking as a form of revenge against their older, male counterparts.
Through loose, documentary-style camera work and an emphasis on solid characterisation, Moodysson moves the plot along with a pleasing efficiency, building towards the band’s first show at the youth club of a nearby town. Along the way, the pangs of adolescent anxiety threaten to shatter the band’s loyalty to each other, with Bobo’s dilemma of frustrated attraction wrought from insecurity, a particularly poignant element of tension. Despite the overbearing male presence in their lives seemingly determined to underestimate them, the band prove that through solidarity, there can be no limitations on just how punk they want to be, demonstrating that there’s nothing more conservative than meeting other people’s expectations – for the rebellious Moodysson, this must surely be a message that rings true.
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