Stockholm, Sweden, 1982. “Punk is dead.”
Or so we are told by a few glittery-spandex wearing, blonde preteens in We are the Best! (Vi är bäst!). But punk isn’t dead for Bobo, Klara, or Hedwig—three 13-year-old girls whose discomfort with the rise of bubblegum pop culture—surely a symptomatic return of the ABBA-filled ‘70s—leads them into punk’s arms.
The general teen angst experienced by these girls is heightened by various aspects of their mildly dysfunctional, yet wildly eccentric family lives. Bobo and Klara find solace for their teen rebellion in the form of creating a punk band. They recruit devout Christian, and, more important, skilled guitarist Hedwig when they realize that creating a band requires more than a dream—it requires actual, musical talent, not to mention the procuring of actual, musical instruments.
Writer and director Lukas Moodysson found inspiration in his wife Coco’s 2008 semi-autobiographical graphic novel, Aldrig Godnatt (Never Goodnight), which he loosely adapted into We are the Best! “The film is mostly about Coco’s childhood,” he told The Economist, “but I pushed in some of my own experiences and feelings as well. We always steal from each other. We are Siamese twins.”
Moodysson’s new film resonates generically as well as in style with two of his early films, Fucking Amal (Show Me Love) and Together. Optimism and angst, measured by erratic doses of fun—teenage modalities of energy, are captured perfectly by Moodysson in this film, which is in part why the Guardian calls him “the most perceptive and persuasive director of teen movies since the late John Hughes.”
Unlike mainstream teen films, We are the Best! captures childhood androgyny in all its awkward yet unrepentant glory. While “genderqueer” in today’s parlance, these teen girls are decidedly straight: Bobo has an unrequited crush on Klara’s older brother that makes her so nervous that she pukes all over his record collection. These girls could care less about societal norms surrounding gender, and their gender presentation is expressed in direct correlation with their love of punk music—which shows us how, indeed, one’s gender is cultivated through acts of cultural appropriation, as well as meted by those same cultural forces from which one appropriates her style.
Moodysson wanted to make a “fun” film that was also “good.” We are the Best! is decidedly that film.