Swedish punk rock coming-of-age film We Are The Best! is the story of three 13-year-old girls navigating the difficulties of early adolescence together as they try to play in something resembling a punk rock band. With incredible charm and honesty, director Lukas Moodyson, adapting his wife’s graphic novel Never Goodnight, captures the beauty of how a gang of misfits with instruments can conquer the world…or at least feel like they can.
Set in 1982, the narrative centres around Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), who, with her short, spiky hair and glasses, looks more like a boy than a girl, and is made very aware of her lack of feminine appear by mean-spirited classmates. Her only friend at school is the bossy Klara (Mira Grosin), another punk-lover with a mohawk and kafiyeh-esque scarf. Annoyed by the racket of another band playing at the local youth center, the girls book time in the band room and since the instruments are there, they pick them up and start messing around on them. Though they have absolutely no skill or knowledge of how to play them, the dream of forming a band is born, and the girls soon recruit a guitarist in the form of Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a Christian girl at their school with no friends. Hedvig does, however, know how to actually play guitar, and helps Klara learn how to play. She also helps them turn their ramshackle chants into actual songs with keys and chords. And suddenly they’re a band and life isn’t so pointless.
Shot with a rough, handheld style, We Are The Best! feels simple while addressing a myriad of issues – including politics, religion, sexuality, family, friendship, etc – that these very young girls are trying to make sense of. There are moments that feel light but actually sort of profound, like when Bobo and Klara playfully guffaw with disgust when a group of girls at their school, all dressed in girly pink, perform a dance routine to a popular disco song, rejecting mainstream femininity as infantile, shallow and unintellectual. Of course, Klara and Bobo’s politics and intellectualism are really very superficial, as is clear when they try to get free fries from a fast food joint by claiming that that’s why socialism is all about, the giving from those with more to those with less (“are you a conservative?”).
Another charming aspect of the film is the girls’ relationship with their families. Each has loving parents – though some aren’t together anymore – who they can’t stand and constantly claim are ruining their lives. The mohawked Klara in particular appears to have a very bohemian family – her dad (David Dencik) comes into her room and tries to play clarinet along to their band’s song, to her great annoyance – that sees her, with her mohawk and kaffiyeh, and Bobo, with her short, spiky hair, as both totally normal.
Now playing on Netflix, We Are The Best! is the rare adolescent film that’s honest, intelligent and realistic, while also being incredibly entertaining. I think the last film I felt the same about was Turn Me On, Goddamnit!, which was Norwegian and shot in a similar style. Maybe the Europeans just do teen movies better (the best?).