Moxie review: not the girl-power revolution director Amy Poehler was aiming for

At one point in Netflix’s brand-new Amy Poehler-directed film Moxie, a group of teenage women collect in a personal space throughout a celebration to vent about the douchey young boys at their school. Among them mixes a deck of playing cards, awareness occurring to her face.

“You know what I just realized? The king is worth more than the queen,” she states, with the air of somebody finding the best tricks of deep space. “Why? The queen is the best.”

That strangely contrived wokeness bogs Moxie down, although it’s an otherwise sweet, empowering movie about one lady getting the confidence to defend herself and her peers. Poehler and the authors attempt to stabilize a large range of problems, however stop working to meaningfully incorporate them into the story. That often makes Moxie seem like a list of synthetic social awareness.

[Ed. note: This review contains slight spoilers for Moxie.]

vivian and her mom at the door

Image: Colleen Hayes/Netflix

Based Upon a 2015 YA book of the exact same name, Moxie follows shy high-school junior Vivian (Hadley Robinson) who grows progressively fed up with the sexist culture at her school. Every year, a group of popular young boys, led by football captain Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger, who manages the charming-douchebag function with practically disconcerting skill), present a ranking of female trainees, providing degrading titles like “Most Bangable” and “Best Rack.” When brand-new trainee Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) attempts to speak out versus Mitchell, she gets blasted on the list. Sustained by this attack, and a Swimsuit Eliminate tune her mommy (Amy Poehler) bet her at one point — Vivian puts all her rage into a zine she calls “Moxie,” and plasters all of it over her school.

The connection in between Vivian arbitrarily keeping in mind the lyrics to “Rebel Girl” and discovering her mommy’s old stash of zines, then producing her own zine, is thin. (Specifically because she never ever really… speak to her mommy about it.) However normally, it’s pleasing to see Vivian’s development from shy wallflower to leader pushed by privacy. As more of the school — boys included — starts to catch on to the zine’s call to action, they draw Sharpie hearts and stars on their hands to signify solidarity. Soon, Moxie grows from a one-woman anonymous publication into a core group of students rallying for change. It’s definitely refreshing to see a wide variety of girls pulled into the mix — and not just the outsiders, as popular student Kaitlynn (Sabrina Haskett) and soccer captain Kiera (Sydney Park) join in as well.

Some individual parts of Moxie, however, just come off as awkward and out of place. That queen-and-king line isn’t the only clunky dialogue. Lucy complains that her assigned English reading only consists of books by rich white dudes — which might have more impact if the first episode of Netflix Original Ginny & Georgia didn’t have a very similar scene, airing just a few weeks ago. There are also weird framing devices in the beginning — a nightmare Vivian has of being unable to scream, as well as her uncannily relevant college essay question — that immediately disappear, only to be randomly referenced near the end of the movie.

claudia and vivian sitting at lunch

Photo: Colleen Hayes/Netflix

But the movie’s greatest disservice is how it has all the pieces in place to really examine intersectionality, and instead ultimately falls flat. At the end of the day, it’s more a story about Vivian than about Moxie. Vivian never meaningfully comes to terms with the fact that she inherently benefits from privileges that her friends do not: she’s white, able-bodied, and cisgendered. She’s surrounded by a diverse cast, but those characters don’t have their own agency — they’re only in place to boost Moxie’s wokeness (and therefore Vivian’s). Even in places where other characters take the lead, the film sticks to Vivian’s limited point of view: Moxie pits Kiera against Mitchell for an athletic scholarship, but after the fallout, the focus isn’t on Kiera. It’s on Vivian’s sadness and frustration, which she takes out on other characters, like her new boyfriend (Nico Hiraga) and her mother.

Her relationship with her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) brings this across most directly. Unlike the other girls involved in Moxie, Claudia comes from a first-generation Chinese family — because her mother has worked tirelessly for her education, Claudia feels immense pressure to succeed, and can’t risk suspension the way Vivian can. Vivian fails to realize this, even though she and Claudia have been best friends their entire lives, and she gets increasingly frustrated with Claudia for not joining in on Moxie’s more rebellious activities. Claudia does eventually call Vivian out for her callous behaviour, but Vivian never offers more than a mumbled apology. By the end of the movie, though, any tensions have been dropped.

To Moxie’s credit, Vivian’s selfish attitude does eventually get addressed, but it specifically focuses on how rude she’s being to her mother. This could be a meaningful emotional thread, except that for most of the film, their relationship is sidelined, only really ramping up at the end for the sake of emotional catharsis. It’s easier to patch up a simple mother-daughter misunderstanding — especially since Vivian was inspired by her mom’s rebel days — than it is for the heroine to consider her own self-centeredness and make personal amends to her friends.

Poehler and the filmmakers imbue Moxie with triumphant moments of the girls uniting, though by trying to be more socially aware, they end up not actually doing much with their diverse cast. Overall, though, the film is definitely a net positive: full of gleeful moments of victory, sweet and specific character relationships, and a singular character arc that is mostly pleasing to watch unfold. The issue isn’t that Moxie plays into bad tropes — for the most part, it doesn’t. It’s simply that Poehler and the crew have all the pieces of something greater, and they don’t assemble them in the ways that would make the most effect.

Moxie is now streaming on Netflix.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.