Why Are Feminist Films Held At Such A High Standard
Moxie! is a Netflix original film directed by Amy Poehler about a teenage girl, Vivian, who secretly starts a feminist zine to fight against sexism at her school. Written by Tamara Chestna and based on the 2015 book of the same name this film aims to point a lens at how young people not only experience misogyny but also engage with feminism.
Whilst it’s overall theme is fairly on the nose the intended audience for the film is clearly a younger generation so the tone makes sense. It presents the idea of standing up against outdated rules or systems as something that is achievable but also doesn’t shy away from showing the darker aspect of campaigning to change the world you see around you. It could be argued that the film oversimplifies what is a complicated issue by spelling out each beat of the story, but when you think about the intended audience this becomes less of a problem for me. I think the performances are great particularly from lead actress Hadley Robinson and the soundtrack re-introduces audiences to one of my favourite genres; 90’s girl grunge.
Where the movie unfortunately lets itself down is in it’s lack of intersectionality, which is ironic because it’s one of the things mentioned by Vivian’s mum, played by Amy Poehler, as one of the mistakes she made when fighting for women’s rights as a teen. Yet it could be argued as almost intentional as this conversation with her mum becomes foreshadowing to the drama between Vivian and her Asian best friend Claudia who is less inclined to join the rebellion due to her strict family. This is however not explored much further than a conflict plot point to guide us towards the climax of the film.
Moxie!‘s black female characters included Lucy who is the confident new student that ignites the feminist spark within our protagonist, Kiera who is the captain of the school soccer team but receives less accolades than the male captain of the football team, and Amaya who is Kiera’s bestie and a big advocate for all things Moxie. However these characters whilst given such strong personalities when introduced eventually just become filler; especially Lucy who has such a strong presence at the start but is quickly turned into a plot point. In fact all three of these characters dissipate so quickly into general background once their part of the story is done their lines could have been said by any of the extras and it wouldn’t have made a difference. There could have been more effort made to include a more diverse range of women in the cast as even the casting of the white female characters lacked variety. I will admit I kept getting confused between all the blonde white teens in this film. Just giving the exisiting characters stronger roles would have helped.
But even with it’s unfortunate character oversights and simplified plot line I have to admit I still had a good time with this film. Other critics have said that Moxie! is a lesser version of films like LadyBird (Dir Greta Gerwig) or Booksmart (Dir Olivia Wilde) and whilst I myself would put those films above Moxie! in terms of writing, character development and cinematography I don’t see why their existence means Moxie! cannot also exist in this space. It’s tone is much lighter but it still deals with issues important to women and is a little more accessible to the younger generation especially considering it’s M rating as opposed to the MA rating of LadyBird or Booksmart.
Moxie! is a film for those girls just starting high school; those young teens who are discovering the world and themselves. Sure it can be fanciful at times, for example how quickly the teens take up the ideals in the Moxie zine, but why do people seem to want to forget that films are here to take us to unreal places, particularly when it comes to those films that explore women’s rights issues. I remember reading similar comments about Emerald Fennell’s Promising Young Woman that that film was unrealistic and her revenge didn’t make sense. When did we decide that art has to realistically represent society though? Because as far as I’m concerned art exists to reflect upon society. If that means creating a hopeful movie about young women taking control of their own lives in a system that is hell bent on keeping women unequal to men and succeeding then I’m okay with that. I’m not saying everyone has to like this film, but why do female directed films have to be Oscar worthy before people will give them respect. The mixed reviews on this film mean that it is causing feelings on both ends of the spectrum and that should be acknowledged.
At the end of the day this movie made me feel things. I felt happy because there are actually some great moments of humour in this film. I felt hopeful that if we keep fighting and raising our voices change will come like it did for the girls in the film. I felt despair because this film shows how tiring it is not to see the progress you think you’re making reflected in the world around you. I felt mad because this film exposes ingrained biases and rules in place that are designed to work against women. And I felt sad because despite the sometimes messy writing the message of this film still came through. As a piece of film it is standard, but this doesn’t have to be a negative. I just wish that people would stop immediately dismissing films that deal with feminist issues in an non-Oscar-worthy way as not having anything important to say. If you have young women in your life watch this film with them, start a conversation about women’s rights; and then blast Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl and avoid Metacritic.