Probably one of the most joyful and heartwarming films I’ve seen recently, We Are The Best! (2013, dir. Lukas Moodysson) is based on a graphic novel by Coco Moodysson, and is set in early 1980s Stockholm, Sweden. It tells the story of three girls – Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig – who decide to start a punk band, despite not really knowing how to play punk music, in the face of the general life challenges of growing up and finding their own identities as young women. We Are The Best! is a vibrant and at times sharply funny film about finding oneself.
I was hooked in to this film within about five minutes. It begins with outcast friends Bobo and Klara, who are being ostracised by their more mainstream-appearing classmates. Bobo and Klara insist that punk isn’t dead – and after a tumultuous evening at their local youth centre where a punk band filled with intimidating boys annoys them by playing their music too loudly, they decide to start their own band. They eventually ask fellow outcast and guitarist extraordinaire Hedvig to join in as well, once they realise that they don’t actually know how to play their instruments. Then the magic starts happening as the story of these three young women, with their infectious spirit and their youthful passion, begins to unfold.
I was hooked in after about five minutes as a direct result of the vivacious and charismatic performances by Mira Barkhammar and Mira Grosin, as Bobo and Klara respectively. Their performances are so authentic, with dialogue that feels and sounds so real for young women of that particular age, which is around thirteen-ish. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the dialogue was improvised by these wonderful young actors, that’s how authentic it felt. A palpable sense of friendship and togetherness shines through in this film, which is definitely enhanced when Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) joins the crew, who turns into Bobo’s and Klara’s punk protege. I would challenge anyone to not be charmed by these wonderful actors.
I also have to commend the performances by the adults of the film – all of the girls’ parents give excellent performances, with Klara’s father (David Dencik) being a highlight with such a funny performance and a very memorable sequence under the credits. Let’s just say I’ll never be able to listen to a clarinet in the same way again. I do think the adults were under-used, but can understand why they didn’t feature as much, given that the story is really more about the daughters rather than their parents. I also loved the performances of the men who run the youth centre, who also put on very dryly funny performances. The moment where the leaders of the youth centre realise that they have been trying to teach Hedvig how to play guitar when in reality she is a better guitarist than all of them put together almost gave me goosebumps. The moment spoke to the low expectations that some older people may have of the young, particularly girls, and to see it play out with a very authentic response was kind of magical.
I absolutely loved the direction by Lukas Moodysson. There is fluid camerawork throughout, with focus on the young womens’ faces and responses which made the film feel very intimate. This also provided humour as we were able to see their responses to awkward moments or experience their outrage at being underestimated. All in all, the film is shot beautifully, and seems to have a pink-toned filter over the visuals, causing the colours to feel muted yet vibrant. The cinematography by Ulf Brantås is nothing short of gorgeous. One particularly beautiful scene takes place on the rooftop of an apartment building in an outer suburb of Stockholm, with snow everywhere and mist rising from the buildings – shot impeccably, yet never overshadowing the focus of the film, which is the young women and their search for identity and authenticity.
My least favourite thing about We Are The Best! was the little romantic side-story that is introduced around the halfway point. In a film about young women finding their power and voice I would probably have preferred for a silly romance sub-plot to be eschewed in favour of a story that gives the young women more personal agency. In a way, it was right to put this in the film since it’s a common experience that young girls face – two ladies fighting over the one potential boyfriend. But I found myself wanting to see more of the young women growing and developing their skills.
I also came out of this film wishing that the young women, whose band name we never discover, had actually released a whole album of music. Their song “Hate the Sport” is repeated a couple of times throughout the film in various versions and it’s so catchy that I’ve had it in my head since watching the film.
Lukas Moodysson is responsible for other amazing films such as Show Me Love (1998), Lilya 4-Ever (2002) and Mammoth (2009). It’s clear to me that Moodysson’s absolute strength lies in telling stories about people who are on the outer edges of society, people who are disenfranchised, particularly youth. We Are The Best! may be my one of my favourite films I’ve seen all year. It is funny, intelligent, emotive and vivacious. Just thinking about the ending actually makes me smile. I would challenge you not to be charmed by Bobo, Klara and Hedvig and their humble punk band.
Watch the trailer here.