Movies

Netflix’s Moxie Could Have Been A Great Movie: But It Disappoints

“I mean, when I was sixteen, all I cared about was smashing the patriarchy, and burning it all down”

Amy Poehler, Moxie

*Most of this review is spoiler-free. After that, I included a few extra critiques and parts I liked that include spoilers*

On New Year’s Day, all I wanted to do was watch Netflix movies and relax. I chose this movie for the same reason I chose to watch Don’t Look Up. I watched the trailer Moxie that Amy Poehler was in it and that it was a fun feminist movie and decided to give it a try.

Moxie is a movie about a girl named Vivian who decides to start a feminist club at her high school.

Netflix's 'Moxie': Why Amy Poehler directed a YA film about activism

Moxie is more than just a high schoolers’ club invented by Hollywood; the group Moxie takes inspiration from the Riott Grrrl movement of the 1990s and early 2000s. The movement started in Olympia, Washington, and the Pacific Northwest to address sexism in the punk industry. I had never heard of the Riott Grrrl movement before and I thought it was cool the movie talked about a historical feminist movement. Supporters hosted undercover concerts, printed out zines (self-published text and images that resembled a magazine), and hung up copies to spread the word.

Though the movement has fallen in popularity since the early 2000s, it inspired writer Jennifer Mathieu’s enough to make a movie out of it. Rebel Grrrl also took place during Amy Poulmer’s teen years. The movie uses the aesthetics and music from the Rebel Grrrl movement. That’s pretty cool. The group Bikini Kill was prominent in the movement, and their song “Rebel Girl” is a battle cry in Moxie.

So, how does one start a feminist group in high school? Well, it takes a few experiences with sexism to encourage the girls to start and that’s where our should-be protagonist comes in. First, Lucy, the new girl (Alycia Pascal-Peña), gets bullied by school quarterback Mitchell (Patrick Schwartzenegger). Lucy and Alycia is Afro-Latina (African American and Latin American). Mitchell is a terrible person from his first moments; he spits in Lucy’s drink and tries to intimidate her. When she tells Vivian, she says Lucy should just tolerate Mitchell’s behavior and let him be a jerk, but Lucy won’t let his behavior slide.

Note that Mitchell never talks to or approaches Vivian, so she gives advice for a problem she doesn’t have. Throughout the movie, Vivian doesn’t experience sexism like her peers do. Meanwhile, Mitchell targets Lucy on her first day. From a new student’s perspective, Lucy notes that the guys’ behavior and the school’s complacency are deeply concerning.

The second big problematic thing Lucy notices is the list. Her first day of school is the day that the guys post a list that ranks girls based on their physical attractiveness. The list is crude and the guys talk about it openly, but the girls usually go along with it because that is just the way things are at this school.

Lucy refuses to accept everyone else’s excuses for the boys’ behavior. She stands up for herself and others, and she doesn’t just shrug it off. Vivian is the one to start Moxie, but without Lucy’s influence–I can’t see the group succeeding the way it does. It isn’t until Lucy calls Vivian out and the guys put out this year’s list that Vivian snaps.

Lucy Actor From Moxie On Her Afro Latina Character
Lucy standing up for herself

Vivian goes through her mom’s old high school zines and discovers that Amy Poehler was once part of a feminist group at her school and handed out cool flyers. Vivian then decides to start a club at school by creating and printing out own her zines at the local print shop. She puts the flyers in the girls’ bathroom to spread awareness about a club she calls Moxie.

When we look back in history, it is notable that Riot Grrrl movements also had some problems. For starters, Riott Grrrl was a group of primarily white middle-class, cisgender women. Some Rebel Grrrl groups participated at Michigan’s Womyn’s Music Festival, which explicitly banned trans women from attending. Vivian’s mother admits that the group was not very intersectional; it seems like white women made up a majority. The new Moxie group is more diverse.

The writers do acknowledge that the Riot Grrrl group was not as inclusive as it could have been via Vivian’s mom and she says it has its flaws. Moxie attempts to fix the problems with the Rebel Grrrl movement by including People of Color. Several of the girls are black, and Vivian’s best friend Claudia is Chinese American. Josie Totah, a transgender actor, plays a minor character CJ, a trans girl.

Vivian has a love interest, a fellow feminist boy named Seth (Nico Hagaria), who supports her and Moxie. Seth is a kind skateboarder who Vivian has a crush on. It was nice seeing a guy feminist, and the movie doesn’t exclude men or hate on all men. Seth is a pretty great guy. Both are awkward around each other at the beginning like typical teen protagonists are, and their development is sweet to watch. They are a gem in this movie.

Moxie" Star Nico Hiraga Thought a White Dude Would Play Seth | Teen Vogue
Seth and Vivian

The movie is also fun, filled with a punk soundtrack, including the iconic hit “Bikini Kill.” Moxie occasionally made me laugh. It is upbeat and tackles serious issues at the same time. I also enjoyed the banter between Amy Poehler and Vivian; they made me chuckle and felt like a real mother and daughter. They poke fun of each other and also made me ask deep questions like is milk “bad” for you? As a milk fan, I’m on Amy’s side, it is not bad.

The side characters were so great; Lucy, who everyone thinks started the group, is confident and brave. Claudia’s story was compelling too. She and Vivian have been best friends forever, but the group causes a rift between the two. It isn’t realistic that every girl would be into Moxie or have the family support to join. The movie doesn’t divide the characters into completely black and white categories. They are sensitive to Claudia’s situation and their friendship. I wish there was more of Claudia though.

Honestly, the side characters were so much better than the main character.

I have to agree with critics on this one. Moxie could have done more. Vivian watches her friends face sexism, but she never has to deal with it personally. Quiet people can certainly start revolutions, but she seemed reluctant at first. A story where Lucy starts Moxie and leads would have been so much more compelling.

Overall, it was a decent movie. I enjoyed watching it. It is a fun movie, but it is also a piece of feminist media that intends to teach and inspire teens. It doesn’t tell a story we haven’t heard before. If the writers want to do homage to the Rebel Grrrl movement and also become more inclusive everyone’s stories, this film could have done more. Why not make Lucy the main character?

The movie was an opportunity to correct feminist media’s promotion of white, upper-middle-class narratives over women of color and LGBTQ+ people. Moxie could have been an opportunity for us to listen to the voice of an LGBTQ+ Afro-Latina character. Lucy could have been a great main character, and it is a shame she was reduced to the background when she clearly outshone the lead.

A Way to Improve Moxie

I would make Lucy the main character and Vivian her friend. Seth could still be Vivian’s love interest and a Moxie supporter. Maybe he could get guys to join as well. I would also give Lucy a love interest, maybe Amaya, and develop their love story.

Amy Poehmer would replace the English teacher guy. Maybe she could be the club’s advisor and a teacher that the girls went to for guidance. She could still have run her own group in high school. Maybe she tells the girls about the group she created as a teen.

I was also thinking if she was the English teacher, maybe she has the class read The Great Gatsby every year and the girls encourage her to put more diverse books on the forefront of her curriculum. Books have great power and reading perspectives other than one’s own is helpful in starting conversations about race and gender.

With Lucy as a main character, the movie could have thrived. Everyone thought she started the group, after all. We could have learned about her experiences, her old school, her home life. Has she always been so confident? Did she always stand up for herself and her friends or did she quiet before and have a moment when she realized something had to be done? Does she have a cool feminist parent? I’d watch another movie about her or any one of the girls.

Too many movies aimed at teens portray adults as stuck in their ways and unable to understand them, listen to their experiences, and learn from them. So, if Amy was a teacher, rather than the guy who somewhat supported them could have been better. Also, Having the teacher realize the problems of the group and listening to the girls suggestions would have been cool to see.

If you haven’t seen the movie and want no spoilers, that’s the end of my review. From now on, this review includes spoilers.

Literary References

The Great Gatsby - Is The Great Gatsby on Netflix - FlixList

As a fan of The Great Gatsby, I couldn’t resist talking about the reference in the movie. It seems like everyone reads The Great Gatsby in high school, and the characters of Moxie are no exception. I’m going to give my opinion because why not. Lucy complains that TGG is not that great because it tells the story of a rich, white guy. Are we supposed to feel bad for him? Mitchell defends TGG and says that since it was studied and beloved for more than a hundred years…it must have something worth saying. Mitchell is the scum of the earth, but I agree with both points. As someone who has read The Great Gatsby in high school and college, I agree that The Great Gatsby is worth reading and studying. The book is about how the American Dream is a lie even for those it appears to benefit. There are also so many other stories that need to be studied and heard.

We need stories by people who are not just rich and white, and Lucy is right here. Schools should promote these stories and give them our attention and time just as much as Gatsby. Perhaps that is the problem with Moxie. The key message isn’t a bad one. It is good–so is reading it in a classroom and watching a movie about intersectional feminism. However, more good stories by people of color, lgbtq+ people, and people of different social backgrounds aren’t being shared and appreciated to the level of TGG. The school puts Gatsby on a pedestal, and it is a problem, and Lucy rightfully calls the professor out.

Mediocre LGBTQ+ Represention

 The big romance in the movie is between Vivian and Seth. None of the other girls get a love story–at least it isn’t shown. Lucy and Amaya kiss at the pep rally, but after that–nothing. We never see them interact or start to like each other. We don’t see them acknowledge the kiss or become a couple afterward. The movie seemed to want to include an LGBTQ+ couple, but they do so half-heartedly. Viewers could easily miss the kiss since it is so short. 

Seth and Vivian and even Amy Poehler and her boyfriend get screentime. They could have easily included scenes showing Lucy and Amaya starting to like each other and getting to know each other better.

CJ is also a pretty minor character. She says a few things about the transphobia that she faces from her peers, but she doesn’t get many more lines.

Lackluster Disability Representation

There was a girl in a wheelchair, and she isn’t ever a part of Moxie, but she is interested in joining. That was disappointing, especially since the group is supposed to include anyone who wants to join.

Unfortunate Realistic Tropes

The way they showed the teachers felt realistic. Along with Mitchell, the principal is the most sexist character. She has no sympathy for the girls or the movement. Unfortunately, this is true of real life. Their male English teacher also tries to “keep his hands clean” and subtly supports the girls, but he seldom takes action to help when Mitchell bullies Lucy.

The football team gets more recognition than everyone else. The teachers, administration, and popular kids worship the quarterback. The school assumes that he is the only one who wants a sports scholarship and they do not care about their other students. Football players are terrible people here, and not one of them is good. That’s kind of an annoying cliché.

Vivian’s Anger

Vivian gets into an argument with her mom not because she stole her mom’s ice cream, but over her mon’s new boyfriend. Her mom brings a guy home for dinner, one that flirted with her at the grocery store, and Vivian thinks she’s settling. Despite calling herself a feminist, her mom makes a salad for dinner and dresses up when she usually eats pizza and chills in pajamas or sweats. Vivian is also annoyed the guy asked her boyfriend about physics and not her. Vivian has a point, but she also assumes the worst and runs with it.

Is there anything wrong with making a salad to impress a new person you’re dating? No. Lots of people do. You could also argue that she’s right. Her mom is acting differently to impress a guy. Vivian is unapologetically herself, and Seth loves her for it. One should be kind to and respect others, but serving pizza dinner is not evil if her mom likes pizza. So, I get that. Why pretend to be someone you’re not? If he became her boyfriend, he would learn these things soon enough. 

But on the other hand, I mostly side with her mother. It is nice that she considers what her date likes to eat. Vivian really knows nothing of their situation. Her mom’s date could have had dietary restrictions and been unable to eat pizza. Vivian assumes why her mom acts that way, and goes off. Of course, Vivian is a teen and figuring herself out, and will just have to learn.

Anger isn’t always the answer to suspected internalized misogyny. Don’t take your anger out on others who mean well and are not doing harmful things. 

Claudia

Moxie Ending, Explained | Netflix Plot Synopsis | Khatrimaza

Claudia’s storyline was nice to see. Not everyone has a feminist mom or feels like feminism is accessible to them. Claudia’s Chinese American immigrant mother tells her that she needs to keep her head down so that she can succeed in life. Claudia isn’t just a bratty teen who feels like her friend is neglecting her. She grew up in an environment different than Vivian; she deserved better treatment than her friend gave her. Claudia risks her mother finding out about Moxie and then takes the blame and gets suspended when the group is under fire. She rightfully calls Vivian out for her privilege. Vivian has it easy. Her mom supports her and so do all her friends. She doesn’t experience or understand her friends who don’t have it as easy as her.

So yeah, much of this review has me noting the flaws of making Vivian the main character. I genuinely liked her, but the side characters are just more compelling.

I could have called out the evil characters, but I don’t see much of a point. Mitchell is literal trash. He isn’t just annoying, and the show shows that he’s awful. I haven’t met a Mitchell, and I wouldn’t want to. He did feel realistic, unfortunately. On the bright side, most characters are good. None of the girls hate each other for no reason. They all work together for a common goal.

But Lucy should have been the main character. We never got to know anything about her backstory, old school, or home life. Amy Poehler, I loved you in Parks and Rec and have not seen the film you also directed (Wine Country), but Moxie had promise and cool characters that I wish had been given more screen time.

Have you seen Moxie? If you have, what do you think? If not, do you plan to watch it? Let me know down in the comments below.