For way too long, the stories of boys and men have been prioritized in Hollywood and beyond. In fact, it’s only been in the last few years, that films like Blockers, Booksmart, and Yes, God, Yes, which offer a young female perspective on screen and female leadership behind the scenes, have finally started to come to the forefront.
The latest in that lineage is Moxie, which comes off as a combination between the light airiness of a teen comedy and the righteous indignation of Promising Young Woman. Moxie is not a person but rather an idea thought up by Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a brainy-but-shy high schooler who rarely oversteps her bounds. But the arrival of new student Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña), who’s unafraid to stand up for herself, and a series of small-to-large inciting events awaken a new side of Vivian.
Soon she’s digging into the protest history of her mom (Amy Poehler) to create an anonymous zine she dubs Moxie to call out the rampant toxic masculinity and culture that supports it at her school. Slowly but surely, Moxie builds a loyal following, with supporters protesting in a variety of increasingly bold ways.
Directed by Poehler and adapted by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer from the novel by Houston English teacher Jennifer Mathieu, the film is different from most teen movies in that it offers a broad range of viewpoints and tries to flesh out its main characters. Vivian’s best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai), is Chinese, and the initial Moxie group features mostly Black and Latino girls. Without being condescending to them, the film gives these characters the opportunity to comment and expand upon Vivian’s message.
While the film is mostly light in tone, it doesn’t back away from the seriousness of the topics that arise as part of the story. Underneath the fun of seeing these girls taking charge and trying to right the wrongs of their school lies genuine hurt that’s too often experienced by women in the real world. The filmmakers take care to illuminate various injustices and crimes without coming off as wishy-washy or preachy.
The combination of feminism and romance has been antithetical in some other films, but Poehler and her team make it work through Vivian’s crush on Seth (Nico Hiraga). True, Seth is the hunky ideal of a feminist ally, but his support allows Vivian to become even more confident in her new outlook. Their bond also belies the concept that any woman who’s interested in advancing the cause for females is a man-hater.
Robinson, previously best known for playing creepy twins in the Amazon series Utopia, does a great job at making Vivian come out of her shell in a believable way. She’s matched by Pascual-Peña, who’s magnetic every time she comes on screen. While the film belongs to the younger up-and-coming actors, the presence of well-known people like Poehler, Marcia Gay Harden, Ike Barinholtz, and Clark Gregg help the film navigate through some of its sticky points.
Moxie is a blast of pure energy that proves that stories centered on and made by women need to continue being highlighted. The fact that it can deliver its serious point in a highly entertaining way makes the case that audiences need more movies like it, and the sooner the better.
Moxie is now streaming exclusively on Netflix.