As three schoolgirls form a punk band in Stockholm in 1982, Lukas Moodysson’s We Are The Best smells like early-teen punk spirit.
Together by Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
We Are the Best is a warm-hearted crowd and critics pleaser about coming of age, and female friendship that passes the Bechdel Test. In a nostalgic, snowy Stockholm, two 13-year-olds, bespectacled Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and mohawked Klara (Mira Grosin), are best friends. Seeing themselves as rebellious outsiders, and positioning themselves at school as anti-establishment critics of everything, they chat on the phone for hours in their bedrooms. Bobo is disgusted with her divorced mother – “Still horny at 40” – and her dinner parties, and Klara with her overly supportive family who – uninvited – play accompaniment to her emerging punk lyrics “We hate the parents”.
Taunted by their classmates that punk is dead, a school concert where their classmates do a dance routine in pink Lycra to a Duran Duran number is the last straw for Bobo and Klara, and they decide to form their own punk band, despite the fact that they have no musical talent and can’t actually play any instruments. They steal a studio session at the community centre from schoolboys rehearsing their heavy metal band Iron Fist and bash out – literally, on the drum kit – their first song together, “We hate the sport”. The more they rehearse, the more they realise they need someone in the band who can actually play something.
They decide to recruit their shy classmate Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a gifted, trained classical guitarist. She is also an outsider, in her case because of her religious mother, but “We can influence her away from God” they confidently assert and play her their song “Hang God”. Even after hearing it, Hedvig joins them, grateful to be accepted by anyone, and she teaches them about chords and harmony. In return, in a bonding session they hack off her long blonde hair and spike it up like theirs. When Hedvig’s mother finds out, she mother threatens to report them to the police for abuse. But unexpectedly, under the two Bobo and Klara’s influence, Hedvig starts to blossom.
The film is episodic. The girls beg to get money for a guitar, they gorge on sweets, practise their music, make a lot of noise, are joyful, go for walks in the snow and lick snowflakes – until having crushes on the same boy in another band, the agonies of who gets invited to the New Year party, and the possibilities of pairing up, threaten to break them up. But it’s quiet Hedvig, the latecomer to the trio, more mature than the other two, who stops best friends Bobo and Klara falling out and makes them see that it’s the band that’s important. They are not a ‘girl band’, as Iron Fist disparagingly called them, “We are girls in a band” – a important distinction that defines the burgeoning identies of all the girls. They get their first gig – for a youth event in a sports centre – but unfortunately they decide to play “We hate the sport”…
The three girls are brilliantly acted as they go though the transition from young teenager to young adult and learn how to negotiate joyfulness and disappointment – they can be the best and the worst. Adults – parents and youth workers – are seen throughout through adolescents’ eyes as irritating beings from another world, having a very Swedish type of considerateness and sense of social responsibility, but always there as a safety net. Director Lukas Moodysson adapted We Are the Best from his wife Coco’s graphic novel Never Goodnight. He made his debut in 1998 with Show Me Love, a story of older adolescent girls discovering emotional and sexual maturity.
We Are The Best is released on 18th April 2014 in the UK