Moxie rekindles the riot grrrl spirit – original blinkers and all

Amy Poehler’s feminist coming-of-age fable has fun passing the baton from Gens X to Z, but stumbles when it needs to open its own mind.

Hadley Robinson as Vivian in Moxie (2021)

▶︎ Moxie is available on Netflix.

Directed by Amy Poehler and adapted from Jennifer Mathieu’s book of the same name, Moxie follows a timid teenager, Vivian (Hadley Robinson), on a journey of feminist activism. Inspired by her mother (Poehler), a riot grrrl during the 1990s feminist movement, and a new classmate Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña), who challenges the prevalent misogyny at her high school, Vivian begins to question the pernicious everyday sexism she experiences. In response, she begins publishing a feminist zine, ‘Moxie’, which galvanises the student body and starts an eponymous activist group, inspiring confidence, kindling teenage romance, critiquing sexist double standards, and disrupting the status quo.

Poehler’s film attempts to capture the vibrant energy and wilful rebelliousness of feminist punk activist circles from the past for the ‘Gen Z’ generation, advocating for sisterhood and collective action in the #MeToo era. The feeling of purpose and communion between an inclusive group of young women is generally portrayed with heart; the camera lingers on group discussion and joyful celebration with sincerity and some intimacy, at points capturing the spirit and bonds of political organising.

Alycia Pascual-Peña as Lucy and Hadley Robinson as Vivian in Moxie

Poehler’s direction is at its best depicting the thrill of burgeoning friendship and protest, doing so with pace and intensity, assisted by feminist anthems such as Bikini Kill’s Rebel Girl. The performances are charismatic, with Robinson demonstrating an artful mix of awkward vulnerability and impassioned rage to portray Vivian’s development from wallflower to kick-ass feminist.

However, Poehler’s message of encouragement to feminist collectives is undermined by the lack of depth afforded to Vivian’s relationships, which appear manufactured to convey political proposals without much detail or realism. In addition, when the comic punchlines are delivered to add levity to the exploration of gender inequality, they rarely hit the mark.

But the most obvious flaw in Moxie is its lack of nuance in developing the intersectionality of the feminist debate that it clearly aims to express – it is problematic that Lucy, a Black Latina woman who inspires Vivian’s feminist politics and Moxie’s activism, is herself a sorely under-developed character. Poehler tries to portray a coming-of-age story about an individual’s political awakening, while at the same time addressing a historical problem in feminist activism – the failure to take account of intersections of race, class and ability; because these two aspects are given unequal weight, the notion of collective feminist sisterhood is weakened.

Despite that failing, Moxie should be applauded for its ambitious encouragement of feminist political activism for a young audience.

Further reading

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