What “Moxie” Got Right, and Where It Stumbled

Like the teens it portrays, Moxie the movie has some growing up to do

Moxie (2021) - IMDb

As soon as Moxie’s trailer dropped, we at Broken Pencil did a double-take. Zines getting the Hollywood treatment? Be still our hearts. So, did it live up to the hype?

Only years after Jennifer Mathieu’s original Young Adult novel was released (which was profiled in BP  back in 2017), Moxie the movie adaptation is live! Its hero is Vivian (Hasley Robinson), whose junior year of high school is a long, winding feminist awakening. When we first meet Vivian, she’s demure and docile, keeping her head down as boys in her school harass female students. In one egregious example, said boys compile a yearly list that ranks the girls — categories include “Most Bangable,” “Most DTF,” “Best Rack” and, in Vivian’s case, “Most Obedient.” Yeah, major ick. When new girl Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) appears on the scene, Vivian’s it-is-what-it-is attitude gets shaken up, and the status quo is suddenly in danger.

“If you keep your head down, he’ll move on and bother somebody else,” Vivian advises Lucy after watching the new girl get harassed by local king misogynist Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger), who is (obviously) the school’s star quarterback — this is a teen drama, after all, cliches are bound to happen.

“Thanks for the advice,” Lucy replies, “but I’m going to keep my head up. High.”

Questioning her school’s culture, and her role in it, Vivian starts rifling through memorabilia from her mother’s (Amy Poehler, also the film’s director) riot grrrl past, including an extensive zine collection christened with a Bikini Kill fanzine (cue anthem “Rebel Girl”). 

Fired up, Vivian creates her own anonymous zine, taking aim at the rampant sexism and misogyny at her school, including the powers that be who, out of sympathy or just plain old fear, have long protected the predators. How does Vivian get the word to the masses, live and direct? By leaving them in the girls’ washroom of course. It isn’t long until other young women take up the cause, and so begins the revolution.

What it got right

A highlight for me was watching Vivian’s zine fever. Angry and fed up, Vivian starts cutting and pasting to make her first issue of Moxie, biking in the rain to her local photocopy shop to get a “shit-load of copies” (which, it turns out, is about 50i). It’s a delight to witness Vivian harness that type of rage and channel it into zines, cheering on such an empowering process because any zinester knows it well. Especially in the social media age, Vivian’s analog activism does justice to the printed power of zines!

As the Moxie movement picks up speed, of course,  the patriarchy counteracts, at times devastating the young women fighting for the cause. Vivian escalates her plans, making more zines, and increasingly pointed ones. Eventually, the anger starts to eat her up, and she starts to take more and more risks.

That’s part of what Moxie got right for me. That anger, that rage when you witness injustice, especially as a teen, and realize just how much energy it takes to move the needle. Then there’s the recklessness as well. The cut-and-paste-first and ask-questions-later of it all. In my experience, that’s the real coming-of-age arch, the agony of impulsivity and growing pains (and hopefully lessons learned).

A bonus was also the cutie-pie romance between Vivian and Seth (Nico Hiraga),  a classmate who supports Moxie. This, as Lucy says, is pretty “hot.”

Where it stumbled

I wish Moxie had taken its politics farther, particularly when it came to representation and intersectionality. There are, of course, nods to a more inclusive feminism. When Vivian asks her mother what things were like in her riot grrrl protest days, her mom admits they made a ton of mistakes, explaining, “We weren’t intersectional enough.” Unfortunately, neither was the movie.

With that kind of self-awareness, I hoped the movie would offer more in the ways of commentary, but it never quite takes off. Though we see a diverse cast of young women, their varied experiences are glazed over. The Black Moxie members are outspoken, visible, and present, but the movie barely scratches the surface of how their experience might differ from their white counterparts. We do get a hint of different cultural experiences with Vivian’s best friend Claudia, the child of Chinese immigrants. Fleeting moments touch on the tension she feels between living her life for herself via American culture and the sense of duty to honour your parents’ sacrifices, but only just. I definitely raised an eyebrow when Claudia’s mother yells at her daughter in Mandarin, and the movie doesn’t even provide subtitles. No need to give actual words to yet another stereotypical oppressive Asian mum, apparently.

Out of Claudia’s differing experience comes a solid message, though, that not everyone’s role in the revolution will be the same, but all contributions are valuable.

That being said, most disappointing was the movie’s token treatment of its singular disabled character: a female wheelchair user, whose presence, although at first promising, proves to be nothing more than a couple dry jokes and fulfillment of some vague visibility quota. Could she not have at least been a meaningful member of the “Moxie” club? We need fully realized characters!

But perhaps that’s too harsh. Perhaps the real culprit is that 111 minutes is not enough for so many experiences. Perhaps we’re spoiled by the golden age of television and in-depth storytelling in TV shows.

Though it fell short on some fronts, I wish a mainstream zine-y feminist film like Moxie had been around when I was an angry teenager. At the very least, the movie got me in the mood to blast some Bikini Kill and make some zines.