Moxie (2021) ☆☆1/2(2.5/4): Her little high school rebellion

Netflix movie “Moxie”, which was released a few days ago, is a likable high school comedy drama which tries to juggle a little too many things together. While it works as a nice coming-of-age tale of female empowerment to some degree, the movie sometimes falters as busily handling numerous other characters besides its shy young heroine, and the overall result is no more than being fairly watchable on free Sunday afternoon.

The movie opens with a suburban high school girl named Vivian (Hadley Robinson) beginning the first day of the new semester of her high school. Although she has her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) next to her as they enter their school, both of them are cautious and discreet because drawing attentions from others is the last thing they want for now, and we are introduced to a number of different archetype high school characters as Vivian and Claudia phlegmatically observe them one by one.

At a English literature class Vivian begins to attend, there is a recently transferred student, and her named is Lucy Hernandez (Alycia Pascual-Peña). When their teacher is about to discuss on a certain classic American novel, Lucy boldly criticizes their teacher’s choice, and that leads to the clash between her and Mitchell Wilson (Patrick Schwarzenegger), a banal and obnoxious boy who has been popular just because he is the captain of the high school American football team. When he later approaches to Lucy just for his narcissistic satisfaction, Lucy flatly rejects him, and then Mitchell cruelly bullies her in addition to getting her labeled as something, probably, too salacious to be mentioned even in the movie.

While witnessing what is happening to Lucy, Vivian initially prefers to stay low without doing anything for her new classmate. Even when she subsequently tries to help Lucy, there is really nothing she can do because Principal Marlene Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden) is mostly occupied with preserving the wholesome public image of the school, and that certainly causes more frustration and exasperation for Vivian.

And then there comes a small idea for Vivian not long after she rummages through her single mother’s old stuffs from the 1990s. Although she is now a sunny suburban mom at present, Lisa (Amy Poehler) was a raging hardcore feminist when she was young and wild, and a number of her old items from the past lead her daughter to the impromptu creation of an underground feminist magazine named Moxie.

While quite determined to highlight gender issues at her school via Moxie, Vivian is not so sure about whether Moxie will draw attention from other female students, but, what do you know, Moxie quickly becomes popular among numerous female students. Although she is still hiding behind anonymity, Vivian is delighted to see how her creation motivates and energizes other female students, and she even comes to befriend Lucy and some other girls willing to promote what Moxie stands for.

However, in spite of their considerable diversity, Vivian’s new friends are rather underdeveloped as the screenplay by Tamera Chestna, which is based on the novel of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu, is so busy with many other elements in the story. Besides the strained relationship between Vivian and Claudia, who later turns out to have her own issues, there is a subplot involved with Lisa and some nice dude willing to be her boyfriend, and the movie also pays some attention to the developing romance between Vivian and a hunky skateboarder boy named Seth Acosta (Nico Hiraga), who genuinely likes her in addition to supporting her feminist causes sincerely.

The movie eventually leads to several bitter moments of personal conflicts, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that our heroine eventually becomes more matured and enlightened as finally stepping forward for her feminist belief. While the climax part feels as uplifting as required, we already saw it coming from the distance, and we are not so surprised by how it is delivered to us in the end.

Anyway, newcomer Hadley Robinson holds the center well in her engaging lead performance, and several other youthful performers in the film Lauren Tsai, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Patrick Schwarzenegger, and Nico Hiraga are well-cast in their respective supporting roles. While Pascual-Peña and Tsai are convincing as Vivian’s two very different friends, Schwarzenegger, who is, yes, the son of Arnold Schwarzenegger, is effectively loathsome even though he does not have any mustache to twirl, and Hiraga has good romantic chemistry with Robinson during their several intimate scenes in the film. Around the fringe of the story, Marcia Gay Harden, Ike Barinholtz, Clark Gregg, and Amy Poehler fill their small spots as demanded, and Poehler, who also directs and co-produces the film, has a little fun with her character’s no-nonsense personality.

On the whole, “Moxie” is less successful compared to other similar high school movies such as “Mean Girls” (2004), but it has some good moments, and you may also appreciate the notable inclusion of disability and transgender in the story, though this admirable attempt turns out to be rather clumsy to my disappointment. I do not like the movie enough, but isn’t it nice to see these young girls banding together and then bravely carrying the torch of feminism just like their seniors?

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