There is nothing wrong with a good ole’ fashion teen feminism story. It seems the appropriate time to show off the power of angry women at a time when men, who behave badly, still seem to get away with it, especially one targeted towards teenagers. Directed by Amy Poehler, who is known for her funny, tough characters, Moxie is a cute story about girl power that’s been done before but, this time, written to fit this generation’s wokeness.
Based on the 2015 YA book of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu, Moxie follows a shy and very sheltered high school junior named Vivian (Hadley Robinson) who lays low to avoid any attention. She has lived in the shadows of high school with her childhood best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai of Terrace House fame). It’s not until the arrival of a new student, Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) who quickly becomes a target for speaking up against popular jock, Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger), that Vivian realizes how sexist her school is. Inspired by her mother’s (Poehler) teenage rebellion stage and a Bikini Kill song her mother used to play for her, Vivian creates her own anonymous feminist zine — ‘Moxie’ — calling out the toxic behavior from classmates and the school, led by Principal Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden). The zine is a hit among the girls in school sparking a Moxie Club created to topple the patriarchy — or at least in the school.
The film really tries hard to remind viewers that this story is a feminist one and one that is focused on being intersectional and inclusive. Poehler’s character briefly mentions to her daughter that her feminist movement didn’t work because it wasn’t intersectional enough. This film includes a diverse and beautiful cast to try to show “hey, BIPOC LGBTQ and the disabled community have equality problems too.”
I understand the story wanted to center the film around a cis-gendered white woman because she could learn beyond white feminism and privilege, but it’s hard to tell if she really did. Race within feminism is only mentioned briefly when it comes to “not touching a Black woman’s hair” or Vivian being told she has white privilege by her best friend, Claudia. Claudia’s story about her Chinese immigrant parents and how it affects her from taking the same risks as Vivian is just briefly brought up and never followed up afterward. The film also briefly mentions situations from characters, but never fully get a conclusion. The story surrounding CJ (Josie Totah), who is only implied as transgender, facing discrimination from the school is given a quick solution to her problem without addressing it at all. There is also Meg (Emily Hopper), who is in a wheelchair and never gets her own story other than being part of their group. It feels like Moxie is just checking all the inclusion boxes and never really follow up on these characters.
Another problem for the film was that the main character is not very likeable. Vivian is very selfish and doesn’t understand her own white privilege. Sure, she’s a teenager who was very naïve from the beginning in her sheltered world and her eyes are finally opened to the oppression that many face in the school from the jocks and bullies. But, Vivian does a complete 180 in character development — becoming extremely selfish and angry, but what exactly is she angry about? One moment, she’s upset about the injustice for her fellow women classmates and the next, she mentions her father abandoning her. They never really explore that after she made that comment.
The film tries to redeem her selfishness by having her own up to her mistakes and declaring in front of everyone that she was the author of Moxie and, basically, causes everyone to rise up and speak their truth. In the end, the bullies are in trouble and the girls end up at a dance party. It’s a very abrupt conclusion, which doesn’t address the aftermath of the seriousness of the situation of sexual assault.
There are just so many in-depth conversations that had to be made and further explored that a movie could not do. Moxie would have been much better as a television series, in which each character and situation could have had their own moment, instead of the film feeling rushed and incomplete. The film could also further explore Vivian’s relationship with her father; Claudia’s family situation; given Lucy a story that isn’t just being the “cool” feminist; CJ’s transgender experience in high school; Amaya’s queerness; and just more stories of the girls of Moxie.
I appreciate the film being made to empower tweens and teens surrounding their womanhood and to question everything in the system, but in reality, the system is broken. The target audience for this film is aware of these issues — as they’ve grown up during the Me Too movement, Black Lives Matter, and the development of many programs and organizations for BIPOC and women. A 75-minute film that casually mentions intersectional feminism and ends in a pajamas dance sequence isn’t going to cut it anymore.
Moxie is currently being streamed on Netflix.