4.5 / 5 stars
If one of the goals of making a year-end list is to introduce lesser-seen films to others who might love them, there should be a rule for writers and critics as they compile their favorites: Each person is responsible for spreading the word about that one movie that really lit them on fire during the year, a movie they want to scream about from the rooftops. More great cinema gets in the hands of more interested people — I’ll call it a “See This” selection. With that, my STS choice for 2014, hands down, is We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!), Lukas Moodysson’s docu-styled tale of pre-teen girls starting a punk band. Simply put, this is the most infectiously lovable movie of the year, bursting with pure, organic energy, simple honesty and a celebration of friendship. (Click on the movie poster for a closer look.)
Complementing the sheer vitality of Moodysson’s young, inexperienced cast is the Swedish writer-director’s authentic respect for his female characters, three social outcasts who hang on to each other for survival and are ready to rock. The coming-of-age genre is often full of cut-and-dry pronouncements about growing up, putting boundaries on what is an emotionally boundless period of a person’s life. Not here. Moodysson, working from his wife’s autobiographical graphic novel, Never Goodnight, lets the girls be girls, fiercely arguing with judgmental classmates one moment, frolicking outside like kindergartners the next. They speak their minds without the stilted conversation of a Stand By Me, and their interactions waver between confidence and immaturity in a way most adults couldn’t put a finger on.
It’s the early 1980s in Stockholm, where best pals Bobo and Klara don’t look or act like their classmates. The outspoken Klara boasts a mohawk and an attitude, while quiet Bobo wears slight glasses and a boy’s haircut (which her mother admires vocally in front of family friends, cue the pre-teen humiliation). In just a few scenes, it’s obvious that these two stick together like crazy glue with an unintentional us-against-the-world nature. And they truly care for one another, evident in an early, touching scene in which they talk quietly while sharing a small bed during a sleepover.
We Are the Best! Trailer
The girls’ conversations soon turn to music after they tell a spontaneous lie that forces them to form a band at their youth center. The thing is, fib or not, they love it. They find the natural excitement that comes with writing songs, learning how to play an instrument, and just making some unbridled noise. Anyone that’s ever discovered a new band with a friend will love it as Bobo and Klara write the original “Hate the Sport” as an FU to their gym coach, their mini-vitriol spilling out with each new lyric, the essence of punk symbolizing their emergence into the teenage world. They soon adopt another loner into the group, a religious guitarist named Hedvig, and the band is born.
Moodysoon shoots the action loosely and never over-edits, letting his performers set the pace once they get going. It’s clear that natural conversation and camaraderie were encouraged and it inspires some wonderful moments. You might even assume that a puppy love subplot was too run-of-the-mill here, but its origins are unique and will be a bit happily unbelievable to an American audience.
For every big sibling or parent who’s watched a young girl come out of her shell, We Are the Best! makes some beautiful music. The songs may be messy and angry and cause people to spit — but the larger themes are note-perfect.