Movie Review: Girls just want to go punk in ‘The Best’

Rockers: Liv LeMoyne, Mira Barkhammar and Mira Grosin in
Rockers: Liv LeMoyne, Mira Barkhammar and Mira Grosin in "We are the Best!"

‘We are the Best’
★★★ 1/2

“You’re in the greatest and in the world,” says 12-year-old Klara, when her best friend Bobo, in need of a bit of comfort, asks her to name one good thing in her life.

And, in a sense, it’s true. Never mind that neither one of them can play an instrument.

Swedish director Lukas Moodysson’s “We are the Best!” based on a semi-autobiographical graphic novel by his wife Coco, captures a moment in the early ’80s when the cultural wave of punk rock had reached its high-water mark and begun to roll back, but not without depositing a few true believers on the shore. In this case they were a couple of barely teenage girls in Stockholm.

Bright, middle-class and thoroughly appalled by their parents and the prospect of becoming like the popular girls in their class, feisty, contentious Klara (Mira Grosin) and shy, comparatively vulnerable Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) look to their favorite Swedish punk bands for solace.

It never occurs to them to form a band themselves until they spontaneously sign up for a rehearsal room at the local youth center, just to keep a group of obnoxious metal heads from using it. Klara chooses the bass, grudgingly gets behind the drums and that’s all it takes. Knowing how to play is irrelevant; it’s enough that they can make a lot of noise.

Like so many afflicted teens around the world, Klara and Bobo loathe and despise gym class, so their first song is the anti-PE “Hate the Sport.” (“Children in Africa are dying/But all you care about is balls flying.”)

They’ve got the right spirit, yet they’re hampered by a complete and utter lack of musical ability, until spotting an older girl playing classical guitar at the school talent show. That’s after scoring one of the film’s funniest moments, by the way, as they suffer through a squad of girly-girl classmates dancing to the Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.”

Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) is a devout Christian, but Klara sees that as a plus since she’ll have the chance to convert her to atheism. And it helps that the shy, studious Hedvig is also a social outcast. There’s no denying that they sound better after she teaches them to play in time and on key.

That’s not really the point, though, since “We are the Greatest!” isn’t a showbiz rise and fall story. It’s a story about youth, friendship and the raw, raucous energy that’s unleashed when these three girls find something to be passionate about.

The story has plenty of incidents — experiments with drinking, boys and radical hairstyles — but they’re secondary to the honesty and vitality of the girls’ often-improvisational performances. Presented in loose, seemingly haphazard style, with hand-held photography, it’s all complementary to the do-it-yourself aesthetic of punk.

That doesn’t mean the girls are unfailingly charming and delightful. They’re punks, after all, and the whole idea is to be annoying, or, in their case, bratty. You might find yourself wishing, from time to time during “We are the Greatest!” that Iggy Pop would show up and give them a good spanking.

But that just means they’re getting the job done.

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