We Are the Best! (2013) — Image via magpictures.com

We Are the Best!

Directed by Lukas Moodysson (2013)

Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best! (Vi är bäst!) features a Swedish all-girl teenage punk band, a song titled, “Brezhnev and Reagan, Fuck Off!,” and another song decrying the tyranny of middle-school gym class. It’s a film that’s pretty hard not to like.

We Are the Best! (2013) — Image via magpictures.comWe Are the Best! primarily focuses on the developing friendship between three young outsiders, Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), Klara (Mira Grosin), and Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), and is infused with gentle warmth and sweet humor. One gets the sense that Moodysson is quite fond of his characters, perhaps due partially to his closeness to the subject matter. The film is adapted from a semi-autobiographical graphic novel by Moodysson’s wife, Coco, and Moodysson’s daughter, Lily, plays Hedvig’s younger sister. In an interview in The Guardian, Moodysson states that he made the film for his children and their friends to enjoy. That the filmmaker has a personal stake in the film is clear, and this is likely what allows We Are the Best! to feel heartfelt without relying upon stock sentimentality or clichéd depictions of tumultuous adolescent emotions. Similarly, Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig (all played by unknown actors) are given the space to develop as characters who are earnest and naïve without becoming caricatures of suburban teenage rebellion.

Set in 1982 Stockholm, We Are the Best! does a masterful job of showing how a specific time and place make certain narratives possible, a fact exemplified by the girls constantly being forced to dispute the notion that punk is dead. This being said, the film avoids romanticizing the past as a time when punk rock “meant something,” and similarly resists a rose-colored portrayal of the often confusing and miserable years of early teenagehood. We Are the Best! isn’t steeped in nostalgia; rather, it feels like a realist but still lighthearted depiction of the obstacles and triumphs faced by a trio of friends as they grow closer and grow up. Given Moodysson’s claim that he made this film for his children and their friends, it makes sense that he is less interested in memorializing the past and more intent upon reframing it in a way that can benefit the young people who are important in his life right now.

We Are the Best! (2013) — Image via magpictures.comSpeaking of young people, one of the most impressive aspects of We Are the Best!, for me, was that Bobo and Klara, who are both thirteen, and Hedvig, who is fourteen, all act in a manner that is consistent with how the actual teenagers I know behave. The girls are often childish, insecure, impulsive, and exhaustingly exuberant, a far cry from the overly clever and cynical teenagers in many mainstream films. Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig are able to both mock and feel threatened by the “pretty” girls at school. They are able to roll their eyes at boys who ignore or abuse them but also secretly wonder why. Like most teenagers, they are constantly fluctuating mixtures of doubt, arrogance, wisdom, and cluelessness, something we just don’t get in typical filmic teenagers, who come cloaked in about fifty layers of ironic detachment.

Accentuating the girls’ dynamic personalities and the bond between them is Ulf Brantås’s frenetic camerawork. The scenes in which the girls interact with each other with no or minimal parental supervision, come across as a whirlwind of jumps between quickly speaking characters, and this perfectly emphasizes the jolt of energy that each girl gains from their friendship. Brantås’s intimate work conveys the girls’ complete lack of need for personal space when with each other, a sharp contrast from the icy distance they attempt to keep between themselves and the rest of the world. The camera’s ability to capture the girls’ penchant for finishing each other’s sentences, their tendency to punctuate every phrase with an exclamation mark, and their need for constant movement reminded me forcibly of puppies crawling and falling over each other. It lent an irrepressible sweetness to the film, one that emphasized the characters’ youth, but non-condescendingly so.

We Are the Best! (2013) — Image via magpictures.comIn line with the approach of balanced realism that neither excessively broods nor idealizes, the friendship shared between Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig is deeply sustaining, but not without its tensions. The girls fight over boys, and Bobo and Klara (the clear bully of the group) pressure Hedvig into cutting her hair and attempt to pressure her into drinking and renouncing Christianity. Despite this friction, the final scene of the film, which depicts the girls loudly proclaiming “we are the best” after they have been booed off the stage at a community center concert while playing their sports-bashing anthem, makes us understand that their bond is strong enough to weather whatever adolescence might throw at them. Indeed, we are left with the sense that despite their different family lives, different mannerisms, and different worldviews, the three girls find enough depth and inspiration in each other to keep forging boisterously ahead. While punk rock may be the vehicle that has brought them together, one leaves the film understanding that each girl has found a home with the other two, whether or not they ever write and perform another song.

We Are the Best! will be playing for a second time at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival Monday, April 14,  and is the perfect antidote for temperatures that are threatening to drop back down into the 30s.

Published by

Emily Anderson

is completing her Ph.D. in English at the University of Minnesota. She teaches literature and writing at several local educational institutions.