She's Got Moxie

Texas high school teacher's 'Moxie' powers Amy Poehler's edgy new Netflix film

Texas teacher's 'Moxie' powers Amy Poehler's edgy new Netflix film

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"Moxie" author Jennifer Mathieu (right) freaking out like the rest of us would with Amy Poehler on set. Courtesy Jennifer Mathieu
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Houston author Jennifer Mathieu will see her book, "Moxie," come to life on screen on Netflix on March 3. Pablo_Gamez
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Jennifer Mathieu's fourth novel, "Moxie," follows a female protagonist inspired to start a feminist movement at her high school. Courtesy Jennifer Mathieu
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Like the lead character in "Moxie," Jennifer Mathieu considers herself a feminist and is the Bellaire HS Feminist Club sponsor. Courtesy Jennifer Mathieu
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Texas teacher-turned-author Jennifer Mathieu is raising a glass after the release of a Netflix movie based on her young adult novel, Moxie.

The film stars and is directed by comedy legend Amy Poehler. The former Saturday Night Live and Parks and Recreation star’s production company, Paper Kite, optioned the rights to Moxie in 2018, and it premiered on the streaming giant on March 3.

“It’s been surreal,” says Mathieu, who lives in Houston and teaches English at Bellaire High School. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to it. One of the nice things about all this is that friends, my college roommate, and people I went to high school with are sharing it on social media and saying nice things. So, it’s been really fun and a way to connect with people.”

While many books are adapted for screen by streaming services, not all star an Emmy Award-winning actress in Poehler and an Academy Award winning actress in Marcia Gay Harden, not to mention a who’s-who in upcoming young Hollywood talent in Hadley Robinson (Little Women, Utopia) and Patrick Schwarznegger (son of Arnold).

Moxie follows protagonist Vivian Carter who becomes inspired by her mother’s riot grrrl-inspired, feminist past to create an anonymous zine that speaks out against the sexist culture at her high school. The zine is the catalyst for a feminist movement on campus, drawing the ire of administrators and the young men whose toxic masculinity is being called out.

Despite the recent glut of teen movies across platforms, Moxie is drawing favorable comparisons to some of the best of the genre, including 2019's Booksmart and classic Mean Girls.

The story is somewhat personal to Mathieu. She is a unabashed feminist who wrote zines herself as a teenager. She loved riot grrrl bands of the '90s, such as Sleater-Kinney and Bikini Kill, known for promoting female equality through art and music. Walking the walk, Mathieu is also the proud sponsor of the Feminist Club at Bellaire High School, a campus she says is much more accepting and supportive of all voices than the fictional high school setting of her novel.

"That's why I wrote Moxie," she says. "I love riot grrrl, I love feminism and stories that center on how hard it is to be a teenager. It's just been a great experience from start to finish."

While not directly involved with the filmmaking process, Mathieu did discuss the adaptation with screenwriter Tamara Chestna. She also had the opportunity to fly to California before the pandemic started to visit the set, where she met with Poehler and some of the cast, including Robinson, who plays the main character, Vivian. 

"Amy Poehler came out and I was just so uncool," Mathieu remembers. "I immediately asked, 'Can I have a picture with you?' I was going to be on set for the whole day. But I was like, I need a picture with you now! That moment was probably a top 10 in my life."

When she got to see a screener of the movie, she watched it with her husband, and then watched it three more times.

“I 100 percent, freaking loved it,” she recalls. “I mean, I knew Amy Poehler was going to do a good job, but you always hear stories of authors like Stephen King didn’t like The Shining, but I knew that wasn’t going to be me. I knew I was going to love it because I love everything that Amy Poehler does, but I don’t think I was prepared to love it as much as I did.”

Unlike King’s well-documented criticism of adaptations of his work, the film version of Moxie stayed true to the book with a few changes and wrinkles that work for the screen. The feminist spirit of the novel is fully intact, which comes through in the trailer.

“The big elements and scenes that were really important to me, that I loved writing are all still in there, but [Poehler’s] also added her own spin on it,” Mathieu says. “She’s changed some of the storyline, and the principal is now played by a woman, which I thought was an interesting choice, played by Marcia Gay Harden. But the way she put it all together works so beautifully, and I think it’s the best kind of film adaptation — it honors the book but it’s its own special creation.”

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, Mathieu missed out on walking the red carpet at an official premiere, but she was quite content to celebrate at home with her husband and 10-year-old son.

"Of course I would have loved to gone, but as someone who is pretty introverted, there's a part of me that's 'phew,' I don't know how I would have handled being at a big event like that," she says. "But I know there will be virtual watch parties and my publisher is putting together a Moxie movie in a box to send out to to reporters to build buzz. There's also going to be a movie tie-in version of the book."

Next up for Mathieu is the release of her sixth novel, Bad Girls Never Say Die, which contains echoes of Moxie about a gang of girls in Houston set in 1964. A tentative date has been set for the fall. Until then, the author is content to enjoy the ride around the Netflix film, continue to teach, and write in her spare time.

“When I saw the list of everywhere the trailer had been, I was so pumped to know it had that wide of a reach,” Mathieu says. “I’m super excited — I really am just like a high school teacher. I’m a mom, I live in Westbury, I’m 44 years old, it’s kind of overwhelming sometimes. But in a great way.”