(director: Amy Poehler; screenwriters: based upon the novel by Jennifer Mathieu/Tamara Chestna/Dylan Meyer; cinematographer: Tom Magill; editor: Julie Monroe; music: Mac McCaughan; cast: Hadley Robinson (Vivian), Lauren Tsai (Claudia), Alycia Pascual-Pena (Lucy), Nico Hiraga (Seth), Patrick Schwarzenegger (Mitchell), Sabrina Haskett (Kaitlynn), Ike Barinholtz (Mr. Davies, English teacher), Clark Gregg (John), Sydney Park (Kiera), Josephine Langford (Emma), Josie Totah (CJ), Anjelika Washington (Amaya), Charlie Hall (Bradley), Kevin Dorff (Casey), Marcia Gay Harden (Principal Shelly), Amy Poehler (Lisa, mother); Runtime: 111; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Kim Lessing, Amy Poehler, Morgan Sackett; Netflix; 2021)

“Though a fluff teen fantasy piece, it nevertheless makes some serious points.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

A sweet coming-of-age story set in a high school. It’s effectively directed by Amy Poehler (“Wine Country,” comedy actress). The film is based on the
Jennifer Mathieu’s 2015 YA novel, “Moxie.” Mathieu, Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer entertain the screenplay with glimmers of charm. It’s a broadly comical Gen-Z-centric movie that boasts of progressive ideals and a liberal agenda built around matters of race, gender and identity. Though a fluff teen fantasy piece, it nevertheless makes some serious points.

The high school
protagonist is the shy 16-year-old Vivian (Hadley Robinson). She chills on campus with her dour best friend since childhood Claudia (Lauren Tsai).

Things get more involving for Vivian when she befriends
the new self-righteous student, her hip Black classmate Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña), in her same English class of Mr. Davies (Ike Barinholtz). Lucy protests the English teacher’s reading assignment of “The Great Gatsby” and instead wants a book she can relate to. Her protest is met with jeers by the “big wheel on campus,” the football quarterback and ladies man, Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger). Sensing a nasty sexist attitude in his stance against her gender, Vivian reverts back to using her single mother Lisa’s (Amy Poehler) forward thinking feminist attitude from back in the day to deal with him and lodges a complaint against his bigotry with Principal Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden). The administrator proves to be clueless about social changes in society and rejects her progressive arguments in favor of keeping the status-quo, and says nothing about the macho boys posting a paper on campus saying which girl is the “most bangable.”

Defiance springs up when the bright, college bound to Berkeley, Vivian, creates a ‘zine called Moxie, with a
feminist manifesto and distributes it on campus. It gets some of the co-eds interested in her radical ideas and also gets support from a sensitive pro-fem guy like Seth (Nico Hiraga). The protest escalates over time, and will soon get so contentious it will frighten Vivian and frighten even more the super cautious Claudia. The bad reaction from society over the volatile issue causes Vivian to question her relationship with Seth, and wonders why she listened to her former radical mom to tick off the male dominated establishment. The ‘zine raises an assortment of sexism issues on campus that nevertheless needs to be raised.

The film climaxes in a ‘big school rally’ finale, a groovy school dance scenario, that gives it an upbeat ending for positive social change on the contemporary American high school scene. It confronts
with justification issues over white privilege, a rape scene and the flap over a patriarchal society being so firmly entrenched in a place of education. But the big questions about societal change it raises (like diversity & bullying) are left unresolved.

It’s a film that should have been edgier and deeper, and with less stereotyped characters. But it connects, anyway, because of its relatable playful nature and ability to at least raise critical topics that need to be called to attention in modern society.

Hadley Robinson, Moxie

REVIEWED ON 3/16/2021  GRADE: B-