Amy Poehler might be one of the funniest women to grace our planet. Her comic delivery and timing are incomparable as is her ability to craft a joke that’ll make your belly hurt from laughing. In 2019, Poehler directed the amusing, but forgettable Wine Country for Netflix and now returns to the streaming giant with a new movie, this time tackling feminism and gender equality with Moxie, a cry for all women to unite and fight against oppression.
Vivian (Hadley Robinson) is 16 and life is about as good as it can be. She’s not popular, but she doesn’t really want to be either, Vivian is perfectly content hanging out with her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) until new girl Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena) stirs up Vivian’s school by not conforming to the school’s sexist attitudes. Inspired, Vivian secretly starts Moxie, a zine that grows popular and more girls and young women join the fight against patriarchy.
Moxie is infectiously joyful but often hindered by several subplots that never reach a satisfying conclusion or add anything of importance to the narrative. The script, written by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, is a little too expository, and despite Moxie clearly wanting to be a radical film, a new dawn for young women browsing Netflix, it’s simply too formulaic to be the beginning of a revolution.
Poehler’s film brings to screen nothing we haven’t seen before; a girl is sent home from school for wearing a tank top while her male classmate constantly takes his shirt off and someone publishes a list that features titles such as ‘Most Bangable’, but it’s never been done this directly and with this amount of levity. Moxie isn’t necessarily a serious film; there are plenty of laughs, thanks to a great cast, but it deals with real, serious problems and brings them to the screen authentically and with a sharp wit. Towards the end, Poehler adopts a much darker tone and handles the change in the film’s mood with grace and confidence.
Playing Vivian, Hadley Robinson is often overshadowed by the supporting cast around her. Alycia Pascual-Pena is fire and brimstone as Lucy; she is angry and fed up, but never frustratingly naïve or one-dimensional. Lucy often feels like the more natural protagonist for a film like Moxie; she’s the outsider, looking into this new community and able to see the flaws within. She’s a natural leader, charismatic, and ready to take down everyone needed to achieve even a slither of equality. Vivian is more reserved and secretive and often a frustrating character, but her journey still remains satisfying.
Lauren Tsai brings a surprising vulnerability to Claudia, potentially the most interesting character of the group. Claudia struggles with Vivian and the rest of her peers’ new-found rebelliousness and asks Vivian to let her do things her way. Chestna and Meyer’s script doesn’t dive deeper into Claudia’s motivations and insecurities, which stem from home, but regardless, her character serves as an important reminder that there isn’t just one way to fight, no one way to reach a goal.
Patrick Schwarzenegger is excellent as the token douchebag Mitchell Wilson. It’s an unforgiving role, but Schwarzenegger fully leans into Mitchell’s toxicity so even though the character never becomes more layered or anything more than the required one-dimensional villain of the story, Schwarzenegger nails it. Ike Barinholtz and Marcia Gay-Harden also impress as a teacher and headmaster of the school respectively, showcasing how deep these issues go and how harassment and gender equality are often viewed as a nuisance, an inconvenience rather than a deeply-rooted societal issue that needs fixing.
Poehler directs Moxie with a firm hand and also appears as Vivian’s mother. Ultimately, Moxie doesn’t leave as big an impression as it clearly wants to due to the predictable, clunky script and a scattered narrative. The film raises important questions about gender equality but fails to add anything new to the conversation and often feels like a compilation of everything we already know is wrong, like ‘Patriarchy: The Greatest Hits”. Despite it’s flaws, it’s almost impossible not to be swept away by Moxie’s inherent rebelliousness and earnestness. Keep on fighting, sisters!
Dir: Amy Poehler
Scr: Tamara Chestna, Dylan Meyer, based on Jennifer Mathau’s novel
Cast: Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Alycia Pascual-Pena, Amy Poehler
DOP: Tom Magill
Music: Mac McCaughan
Run time: 111 minutes
Moxie is streaming on Netflix March 3