Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are best friends. They love candy, pretty boys, but most of all: Punk music. Wait, isn’t punk dead? Not according to these two young ladies. One day while at their local youth center they decide to try to make some music themselves. Not having any experience of ever playing a musical instrument whatsoever they are very bad at it, but then they have an idea. Why not ask the Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne)? Who’s Hedvig? She’s your typical goody two shoes Christian girl, awesome guitar player though. Hedvig decides to join the band, but first they’ll have to totally mess up her long blond hair and convert her to punk rock.
We Are the Best! (original Swedish title: Vi är bäst!) is Lukas Moodysson‘s seventh feature film and it’s based on his wife Coco Moodysson’s graphic novel Never Goodnight. Since it’s sort of a coming-of-age story of three girls I’ll have to assume that it’s a personal story for Coco (love that name by the way). If one of the girls is her, I’ll try to guess that it’s Bobo, not just because she resembles her most physically (and in name), but also because she’s the one character with the biggest arc. Bobo is also the character that’s developed and explored best in the film. I don’t know how much of the story is true or inspired by real life events, but that doesn’t really matter, just as long as the film feels authentic and it does.
The story takes place in Stockholm, 1982. Even though that’s a big city and the country’s capital the film retains a certain “small town feel” that is present in all of Moodysson’s films. There’s almost a sense of desolation and like you’d expect it’s Sweden, so it’s very cold throughout the film the girls wear jackets and scarves. Exploration of youth culture and young characters isn’t exactly a new thing for the director, though I personally feel that previous works such as Show Me Love (1998) and Lilya 4-Ever (2002) succeed better in that intent. Could it be that Lukas was trying to be extra careful in handling this story, since it was based on something his wife published? Who knows.
The problem is that the story ends up feeling a bit thin. Not much happens, which isn’t a problem per se, but I also struggle to see what the point of the film is. There doesn’t really seem to be any clear message or intention on the side of the director (or maybe there is and it’s just lost on me). Was he trying to say something new that he didn’t already mention in all of his other films? I also missed the more poetic and almost surreal moments that made his other movies so great. The film looks good, but it’s subtle. Cinematographer Ulf Brantås, who worked with Moodysson on previous films, tones it down and steps in the background, but very effectively creates mood, atmosphere and temperature.
I do appreciate the film on a technical level, especially the editing by long time collaborator Michal Leszczylowski. Editing was as always one of the director’s strong points. Here Leszczylowski takes a slightly different approach from what we’ve seen him do previously, to give the film sense of vitality that mirrors the girl’s energy. The young actresses are fantastic by the way. All there of them. You never get the sense that they’re acting. It’s also admirable that they’d let Moodysson mess up their hair so much. They’re look much better in real life, but for the film they play these girls that say they don’t really care about how they look, just as long as it’s punk rock.
It’s interesting to watch these girls grow up and experience certain things for the first time and it’s rare to see such an honest portrayal. I’m also always fascinated by how much Moodysson is willing to make male characters look bad in his movies. They’re sort of always weak, spineless douche bags almost (and that’s when they get off easy). Especially Klara’s dad is used as comic relief in this film. I mean the scene during the end credits where he plays the clarinet on the toilet is just hilarious, but he has a couple good moments in the rest of the movie as well. I liked how the girls wanted to be punk rock, which to them meant also not being seen as girls.
There’s a moment when a couple guys call them a “girl band” and they almost feel insulted. Though it’s interesting how they are in fact very “girly” in a way and do what most people would call girly activities, like having sleepovers for example. They fight over boys, they like to look at themselves in the mirror and I’m sure that if they had phones they’d also be taking selfies. We Are the Best! is all about finding yourself and who you are and what your place is in this world and that’s probably my favorite part. They are clearly trying to express their identity through clothes and music and by refusing and rebelling against authority. In a way it’s not even relevant that they are punk rockers or that it’s the 80s in Sweden.
The story is universal and growing up and being a teenager is a lot like being a punk rocker. It’s all about breaking stuff, and fuck the rules, I want to do whatever I want and all that. In that respect the film succeeds in showing what growing up is like, even if I still expected something more from it. The girls’ relationships and dynamics with their parents are also interesting, because they play a marginal role in the story and the director doesn’t make it clear how you should feel about them. Are they good parents? Are they bad? Are they just okay? It’s hard to tell and maybe it doesn’t even matter anymore, because now these girls are starting to become women and define who they are and how they see themselves.
7.5 out of 10