When depicting stories about young girls, filmmakers have a tendency to glitz them up with vibrant colors, pop hit soundtracks, and leading ladies so pretty and polished in their look they seem custom-made to be fashion dolls. With We Are The Best!, Swedish writer-director Lukas Moodysson rejects these flashy facades, instead offering a story of girlhood and friendship that is refreshingly authentic, captivating and sincere, not to mention a hell of a lot of fun.
The heroines of We Are The Best! are true tomboys, not the Hollywood variety where a ponytail, glasses and paint-splattered overalls are all that separate them from being the prettiest, most popular girls at school. There will be no She's All That makeover for Klara (Mira Grosin), Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) and Bobo (Mira Barkhammar). Their story doesn't demand one.
Thirteen-year-old girls coming of age in 1982 Stockholm, they rebel against the self-imposed uniforms of their female peers---neon colors and long flowing locks--wearing instead oversized sweaters, dark leggings, and self-made haircuts of mohawks and soaped up spikes. The only makeover you'll see here is Hedvig's transformation from quiet Christian conservative to giggling, spiky-haired punk girl. And rather than this transformation being the film's climax, it's a big moment in the second act, signaling these girls' emerging friendship, where they begin to learn the tricky nature of peer pressure.
We Are The Best! has a wandering plot that leads the girls through arguments over music, their first drunken party, rivalries over boys, and the formation of a band that will bond them forever. Their story is loosely inspired by Never Goodnight, an autobiographical graphic novel by Lukas Moodysson's wife, Coco Moodysson. I've not had the opportunity to read Never Goodnight, but its influence is felt in the care and tenderness given to capturing the complexity and unadulterated joy that ties together girl friends.
Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne, and Mira Barkhammar give performances so unguarded and lacking in self-consciousness--exploding into girlish giggles as they cause low-level chaos in their attempts at punk rock revolt--that it's easy to forget you're not watching a documentary. Moodysson's cinematography, which favors static, unobtrusive setups, enhances the film's documentary vibe. Their portrayals are compelling, youthful and seemingly effortless. Grosin is a fantastic firecracker as the leader of the group as the headstrong Klara who most closely embraces the punk rock look with her cute Mohawk, but is also the first to dabble in makeup, an artifice she and long-time bestie Bobo had once collectively agreed to rebuff.
LeMoyne offers a much softer performance as Hedvig, a soft-spoken Christian girl recruited by the other two because of her skills on classical guitar--versus their musical skills of nothing really. A lesser actress could easily fade into the background of the feistiness that is Bobo and Klara, but LeMoyne has a simple grace and definite presence that perfectly integrates this unlikely friend into the group dynamic.
Bobo is essentially the central character of this heartfelt coming-of-age drama, and Mira Barkhammar, in her screen debut, gives an incredible performance that is stunningly vulnerable and sharp. While Klara has a nuclear family flush with brothers, sisters, and parents who love her and crowd about to be in her life (much to her mock outrage), Bobo just has her mother, a woman who is too distracted by the endless soap opera of her own love life to even notice if her daughter is home. Bobo with her boyish short hair and glasses is true to who she is, but is at that terrible age where that’s not considered cool by your peers. So outside of her social circle, all she gets is ridicule. But that's okay--the film reminds us with its title and spunky finale--because no matter what anyone else says, these three know they are the best!
Its plotline is simple, its heroines defiantly unfashionable, and--aside from Hevig's guitar skills--not especially talented. They are awkward, and painfully uncool. Moodysson takes some major risks telling a story this barebones and rebellious because to make it worthwhile, he has to nail every element. Thankfully, he does.
We Are The Best! is a celebration of youth and that dizzying time of self-definition that is teendom, but lacking the glossiness and nostalgia that so many coming-of-age movies slather on. We Are The Best! is something more truthful and thereby more poignant. With its plucky heroines and their enthusiastic defiance, deep-set loyalty, and relatable anxieties, We Are The Best! gets under your skin, into your heart, and refuses to be forgotten. This is a classic coming-of-age story that embraces the messiness and stubbornness of adolescence, delivering a drama that is alive with attitude, humor and heart.