After receiving mixed receptions for his past three films, two of which are decidedly experimental in nature, Sweden’s Lukas Moodyson has returned to the lighter formula that first earned him national and (later) international acclaim with his latest work Vi är Bäst! (We Are The Best!). Revisiting some of the themes first examined in Fucking Åmål (retitled Show Me Love internationally) and Together, Vi är Bäst! is a warm and energetic offering about three teenage girls who form a band in Stockholm in 1982, based on a semi-autobiographical comic by the director’s wife Coco Moodyson.
Two of the girls in question, Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin), are punks and best friends. Bobo, sporting glasses, is quiet and occasionally sullen, while Klara is an irrepressible back-chatter, and together they make a fine double act. They are mocked at school by popular kids and at the local youth club by heavy-metal fans for their taste in music, haircuts and clothes, but this unpopularity seems to feed the bond between the two and give them the resolve required to carry on ploughing their own idiosyncratic paths. Despite being told by their peers that punk is dead they decide to form their own band, partly out of spite and partly so that they can write a song to voice their anger at having to take part in PE classes (‘Hate The Sport’, which includes the fantastic line ‘The world is a morgue / And you’re watching Björn Borg’). With enthusiasm in spades but a lack of ability holding them back they decide to seek help from Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a classical guitarist who is also an outcast at school as a result of her religious beliefs.
Part of the joy of watching Vi är Bäst! comes from witnessing the slight improvements that the band makes after Hedvig joins, and the way that the strength of Bobo and Klara’s friendship fluctuates at the same time. The musical steps that are taken are very small during the course of the film, and by the end the band is not much better than the unlistenable two-piece racket we see and hear at the start, but there are improvements. The practice sessions are like cinematic punctuation marks, occasionally reminding us that time is moving on and their ability is improving while also subtly showing that the bond with Hedvig is growing. There’s a great scene in the practice room in which two older youth workers try and impress the girls after purchasing a new electric guitar for the youth club, only for Hedvig to show them up with her superior musicianship, but otherwise there’s no Hollywood-style road-to-greatness achieved during the course of the film; by the end the trio is just about capable of playing a short set for a small crowd of kids in a rival youth club in the suburbs, although that performance descends into a delightfully uproarious mini-pop riot when the girls insult their hosts for being out-of-towners.
Moodyson chooses to film close to his subjects and often uses a sole cameraman with a hand-held camera, ensuring a fairly lo-fi, ramshackle feel that suits the subject matter well: this is a film about teen spirit and youthful rebellion, and the director’s techniques certainly add to the energy and the general sense of chaos. And there is a kind of non-serious and pleasing chaos everywhere: at school talent shows, in the practice room and at home, the three girls exhibit a reactionary, anarchic streak as well as a certain daftness, which is reflected in the behavior of their parents. As with Moodyson’s earlier films the grown-ups here really don’t have it all together despite being in their 40s and they often act like children. Bobo’s mother (Anna Rydgren), for example, is recently divorced and appears to be on a rollercoaster ride with her current boyfriend. Her life is seemingly awash with parties and boozy nights out and she has become so distracted by it all that at one point she fails to notice that her young daughter isn’t home. Meanwhile Klara’s father (David Dencik) is engagingly silly, insistent on playing along at the girls’ practice sessions with his own array of instruments, but his immaturity has a negative side and he and his wife are seen arguing about trivial matters like chores like squabbling teenagers. Meanwhile Hedvig’s mother (Ann-Sofie Rase) is emotional and reactionary, threatening at one point to take Klara and Bobo to the police when they give Hedvig the requisite punk haircut.
The story includes a few coming-of-age genre staples, but thankfully there’s a freshness in the way that Moodyson and his wife address these, particularly the subject of innocent youthful romance. (Might it be because we are seeing things entirely from the point of view of teenage punk girls for a change, rather than mopey teenage boys?) There’s an affecting ‘gooseberry’ moment, for example, in which Bobo experiences the feeling of being abandoned by her best friend for the first time, and there are also a few charming scenes where the same character phones fellow punk Elis (Jonathan Salomonsson) but struggles to make conversation.
The performances – particularly by the girls at the heart of the film – are terrific, and hopefully we’ll see more of all three in the future. It certainly helps that their characters are extremely well-written and realistic, and credit must go to Coco Moodyson for the story and Lukas Moodyson for the screenplay, which captures the spirit of adolescence very well indeed; it’s also something of an achievement, considering the fact that the film is made by a man in his mid-40s, that Vi är Bäst! never once feels patronising toward teenage Swedish girls. Moodyson’s film is sincere, honest, intelligent and funny; it’s a well-acted and joyous ode to the defiant misfit that is well worth anyone’s time.
Directed by: Lukas Moodyson
Written by: Lukas Moodyson, Coco Moodyson
Starring: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne
Running Time: 101 minutes