Can you be punk if you’re a preteen girl? Can you be punk if you can’t play an instrument? Can you be punk if punk is dead? We Are the Best! answers all of these questions in the affirmative, with an enthusiasm that befits a movie with a exclamation point in its title. It’s not a coming-of-age tale, even though it features youthful protagonists. They are entering adolescence, but there’s no sense of a loss of childhood on the horizon. This is a movie for reveling in the fun of being a kid. And for celebrating the punk spirit.
It’s Stockholm, 1982, and middle schoolers Bobo (Mira Barkhammer) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are best friends who agree that punk rock is over. They don’t care, though, and resolutely keep the genre’s spirit alive. Punk is their refuge in a school environment that marginalizes them. On a whim, the girls decide to start their own band, and on another whim, they invite Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) to join them. Hedvig is another outcast, though because of her religious convictions rather than her attitude. Klara doesn’t think Christianity is punk, but Hedvig has the advantage of actually knowing how to play guitar, so the duo has a use for her. Together, they get up to a variety of adolescent hijinks around the town. They cut their hair, they steal drinks at parties, and they fight over punk boys. The story is loosely leading towards a battle of the bands, but its heart is in the slice-of-life segments.
Something that We Are the Best! captures incredibly well is how it feels to be a kid who chafes at some things that everyone else seems to take for granted. The main trio loathes sports and defiantly maintain tomboyish looks. They get mocked for their trouble, but they channel their frustrations into their slapdash but charming song lyrics. “Abort the sport!” is the chorus of their anthem, and they make you believe in it. This is a great film about alienation because it doesn’t wallow in self-pity for even a moment.
The movie also gets how kids act in a way that very few films do. Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig each have their own believable idiosyncrasies, and they bounce off one another with lively chemistry. Whether it’s Klara and Hedvig debating religion with the hilarious uninformed self-assurance of preteens or arguing with older boys over whether girls can do punk, the heightened emotions and off-kilter logic of childhood feels totally lived in. It’s funny and sometimes beautiful to see.
Writer/director Lukas Moodysson adapted We Are the Best! from the Swedish graphic novel Never Goodnight (which was written by his wife Coco Moodysson. Aww). While he’s known for helming confrontational, explicit, and/or difficult films, this one is a change of pace. It’s suitable for family viewing, in fact, which may surprise anyone who’s familiar with Moodysson from work like Lilya 4-ever. It gets back to the feel of his early work, like Show Me Love or Together. We Are the Best! is lightweight but outrageous fun.