Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a seemingly shy sixteen-year-old, has always preferred to keep her head down and fly under the radar. But when the arrival of a new student (Alycia Pascual-Peña) forces her to examine the unchecked behavior of her fellow students running rampant at her high school, Vivian realizes she’s fed up.
Inspired by her mother’s (Amy Poehler) rebellious past, Vivian anonymously publishes an underground zine called Moxie to expose bias and wrongdoing in her high school and unexpectedly sparks a movement. Now at the center of a revolution, Vivian begins to forge new friendships with other young women and allies, reaching across the divide of cliques and clubs as they learn to navigate the highs and lows of high school together.
Coming-of-age movies are usually considered to be happy-go-lucky, joyous films about one teenager’s journey to find out who they really are and navigate the troubles that come with being a middle or high school student. Usually, there’s some annoying bully that’s part of the problem, or most usually, these movies are about finding out who your real friends are and learning to love yourself.
But Amy Poehler’s second directorial effort Moxie is a fiery and rage-fueled coming-of-age tale focusing on one terrible school filled with awful sexism and a group of girls that are fed up with it and take initiative to make a change. And although the film can occasionally lack focus and feel like it’s meandering, especially in the second act, it still stands tall as a bold and important story that needed to be told.
For a little while, lead protagonist Vivian watches as her school is run by a bunch of sexist values and double standards. In one scene early on, the principal walks into a classroom and tells a female student that what she is wearing is unacceptable because it is “showing too much collarbone”. However, a male student is wearing something strikingly similar but he doesn’t get in trouble for it.
Watching things like this happen is deeply infuriating not only for Vivian and her fellow classmates but for us as a viewer. We see so many awful things going on in this school, and so whenever Vivian takes charge to make the Moxie group, we are right there with her and the group the instant it is formed.
Like I said – it’s here in the second act where the movie sadly loses a bit of its rage and its steam. It tends to focus on some relationship drama which felt quite unnecessary. I wish the film would have been one-hundred-percent committed to its central story, but it does explore a couple of side-plots and none of them are nearly as interesting as the main plot.
Gratefully though, the third act gets right back into the swing of things and concludes the final little bit of the movie on a high note. All of the performances throughout Moxie are terrific as well, with many of these actors being ones I haven’t heard of before, but they managed to impress me greatly.
It does follow some of the tried-and-true formulas of a coming-of-age tale at times, but Moxie nevertheless tells a bold and important story. One that should be told in film more often.
Overall Grade: B
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for thematic elements, strong language and sexual material, and some teen drinking
Directed by: Amy Poehler
Distributed by: Netflix
Release Date: March 3, 2021
Running Time: 111 minutes