High school is high school, no matter the time. There are popular children. There are those who want to be popular. There are those who are left behind. These dynamics are particularly toxic at “Moxie” high school, where “rankings” are published each year on social networks, rankings like “Best Rack”, “Most Bangable”, etc. have the slightest sense that she could repel. Her ignorance is called into question when a new girl named Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) makes waves, first by defying the Summer Playlist and then standing up to the menacing arrogant footballer bully, Mitchell Wilson ( Patrick Schwarzenegger). When Lucy reports Mitchell’s harassment to the principal (a soothing-voiced Marcia Gay Harden), the principal warns Lucy not to say the word “harassed” and to simply suck it off and ignore it. Basically “boys will be boys”. Vivian and her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) aren’t “troublemakers” like that, but something about Lucy’s fearlessness inspires Vivian. Vivian’s mother (Amy Poehler) is a cool mom (although not like the grotesque “cool mom” Poehler played in “Mean Girls”), and one night Vivian discovers her mom’s punk-rock past. These are the “zines” that catch Vivian’s attention. She decides to release hers and she calls him “Moxie”.
The zine, denouncing the rude behavior of the boys and the sexist administration, immediately made waves. Vivian does not take possession of Moxie. Anonymity is the key. The girls come together, almost by osmosis. There’s Lucy, excited by the possibilities of broadening her protest. There’s Kiera (Sydney Park) and Amaya (Anjelika Washington), two talented athletes furious that their championship football team doesn’t get as much support as the dull boys’ football team. There’s Kaitlynn (Sabrina Haskett), a girl sent home for wearing a tank top. There’s CJ (Josie Totah), a trans girl angry about not being allowed to audition for the role of Audrey in Little shop of horrors. The movement sweeps through the school and causes a rift between Vivian and her rule-abiding best friend Claudia.
Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer adapted Mathieu’s book for the screen, and the script tries to overdo it on occasion, as evidenced by the film’s slightly inflated runtime. The attempt to make ‘Moxie’ feminism intersectional is well-intentioned (and necessary), but leads to some unintended symbolism in the execution. Nineties riot grrrl has been criticized for not being inclusive enough, which Poehler’s character admits, and so “Moxie” is a sometimes clumsy attempt to correct the course. There are, however, some missteps. Lucy, so central to the film’s early sequences, takes a step back, at least in terms of screen time, once the movement is up and running. “Moxie” doesn’t have the satirical bite of, say, “Mean Girls,” nor a particularly punk rock energy, but Poehler does an admirable job of making things happen. The boys are not left out either. A kid named Seth (Nico Hiraga: you probably remember him from “Booksmart”) is a shy ally of the Moxie movement. The romance that blooms between Seth and Vivian is very sweet, but it also has its nuances. At one point, Vivian, excited by feminist outrage, includes it in her widespread criticism, even though he hasn’t done anything wrong. It’s very insightful! Hiraga is a young romantic actor.