Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin and Liv Lemoyne play tween punkers in "We Are the Best!" Credit: Magnolia Pictures
‘We Are the Best!' Director: Lukas Moodysson Stars: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin Rating: NR 5 (out of 5) Globes
Much like the old who tries to be down with the kids, making films about youth is a tricky business. Almost no one gets it right, either coming off as condescending or nakedly jealous for a time that’s passed them by. One who does get it exactly right is Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson. Almost 15 years ago his “Show Me Love” (released back home as “F—ing Amal,” a reference to its spirit-crushing small town setting) achieved the impossible: It was a lesbian teen romance that seemed perfectly in synch with its characters, and without seeming the slightest bit pervy. It believed in its characters’ moony passions and anxieties, which didn’t seem filtered through an older perspective. It felt made by teens, ones who knew how to write, construct and frame a film.
Moodysson went far afield, going from the relative lightweight subjects of everyday teen longing to the absolute dregs of humanity. (“Lilya 4-Ever,” about an impoverished girl abandoned by her mother, is legendarily grueling.) But he returns to his roots with a vengeance with “We Are the Best!” It’s not about teens but tweens: two girls, Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin), in 1982 Stockholm who’ve cut their hair short and want nothing more than to start a punk band, despite being told that their beloved genre is already dead. Like many punk legends, they don’t know how to play instruments, and they’re not that musically talented, even after they coerce a third girl — a goody-goody classical guitarist named Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) — to chuck her flowing locks and make them a trio.
Moodysson follows them as they get slightly better. At first they’re kicking actual bands out of rehearsal spaces to bang like wild children on drums and strum artlessly on guitar strings. As their talent minutely increases, their songs go from being complaints about sports to shouts for crushing capitalism. It’s not that they have any idea what they’re talking about, but such is punk and such is especially being 12 or 13 (or 18, or 45).
“We Are the Best!” mostly hangs with them, bottling up their blind energy while both satirizing and delighting in their ignorance. But filmmaking-wise, it doesn’t go the usual route of using hyper-editing to capture youthful zeal. Moodysson sticks to his usual trick of shooting with aggressive hand-held punctuated with sudden zooms and zoom-outs. The style doesn’t just create a sense of fun but captures the way brains move when they’ve been stimulated by something fresh and new. It portrays the kind of rush of unfettered, probably crap inspiration that one relishes before self-criticism and self-doubt kicks in. None of these girls may last long with punk, but for the moment it’s consumed their lives, allowing them to destroy their younger selves for a personality type they will one day destroy as well.