“Moxie is an enjoyable and important movie.”
The super-star of Pawnee, Indiana – Amy Poehler, is playing triple duty on her new film Moxie, which she produced, directed, and co-stars in about a teenage girl who is inspired by her mother’s punk-rock years and decides to change the world, or at least the high school she attends for the better in this coming-of-age women empowerment movie. Mixed elements of comedy and serious subject matter come to light in this enjoyable film, and despite Moxie’s numerous shortcomings and flaws, there are important messages to be heard and there are some good character transformations by the end, even if they arent’ completely earned.
Written by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, based on the novel of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu, Moxie centers on Vivian Carter (Hadley Robinson), a shy, quiet, straight-A student in her high school. Her only friend is Claudia (Lauren Tsai), where the two have grown up together, studied hard, and plan on attending Berkley together. Vivian’s mother Lisa (Poehler) is a single mom who is super-cool, funny, and cares about her daughter, but not in an over-protective way. At school, Vivian witnesses teachers, students, and even Principal Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden) turn the other way when the young men at her school continue to sexually and verbally harass all of the women on a daily basis, which is usually led by the wolf in sheep’s clothing – their star quarterback Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger).
He’s incredibly slimy and is as psychopathic as they come. After one day of enough abuse at school as she witnesses the new girl Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena), being attacked by Mitchell, she heads home and finds her mother’s instrument case of old pictures where she rebelled, led protests, and performed in a punk-rock band. This inspires Vivian to create an anonymous free magazine she distributes secretly at school that tells the truths about what exactly is happening at her high school, with the hopes that the many women will take a stand and change the abuse and sexism that is running rampant within those alleged safe walls.
Poehler is a fantastic actress and is perfectly capable behind the camera, but the tone and themes in Moxie are all over the place and never seem to form a cohesive nature that follows a conclusive narrative. Perhaps Poehler and screenwriters Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer wanted to honor the original source material and haphazardly made a quick mention to something the book referenced and explored, including the absence of Vivian’s father and Lucy’s sexual orientation. These two elements seem to drive the actions of these two characters more than the film lets on to, and instead, Poehler delivers only one line of dialogue or a few seconds of screen time to further this extreme development, which is never brought up or discussed again. It just felt out of place, which is the common theme of the film, where characters say and do things without any real or satisfying consequences, but rather just oddly flows into the next scene of conflict. Still, Moxie has something good to say and that is what drives it home in the end.
Poehler is always amazing on-screen as she is here with her side role, but the spotlight should be on Vivian’s Hadley Robinson, leading her audience and friends to a revolution, but Robinson doesn’t command a truly inspiring or grande screen presence at all here. Her character isn’t even that charming or commanding, which is somewhat difficult to get behind. Luckily, her friends pick up that slack where Pena outshines everyone in her role as Lucy. A few other cameo roles show up with the inclusion of Ike Barinholtz who turns in a surprisingly great performance as a teacher. Moxie is enjoyable and important, however, the execution and tonal shifts could have used some tightening.
Written by: Bryan Kluger