The 2013 Swedish film We Are the Best! is set in Stockholm in 1982 and follows teens who love punk rock. But you don't have to be into the '80s or Swedish stuff or even punk rock to love ityou just have to know what it feels like to want to team up with friends against the rest of the world. Adapted from a graphic novel, We Are the Best! is a coming-of-age story like many others, but done sweetly. It excellently captures a lot of the trials of being an independent-minded, ornery girl. If I had a teen daughter, I would sit her down to watch this movie.
Our heroines are 13-year-old Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and her mohawked friend Klara (Mira Grosin), who are inseparable buddies, both cute and androgynous compared to the pastel-leotard-wearing girls of their school. (The actors are close to the actual ages of the characters, which makes them look almost jarringly young if you're used to American films where teenagers are played by much older people.) Klara is the ringleader, sometimes-bully and idea woman, with a burgeoning political consciousness. Like so many punks, she's a big fan of yelling "solidarity!" while trying to get free food. She and Bobo are both pissed at the frustrating bonds of childhood, like lousy home lives and tedium at school. The natural output of this anger is a punk band, of course, which Bobo and Klara form sort of by accident when trying to one-up local dudes in a cheesy butt-rock band. Even in 1982, punk isn't "cool" anymore. Neither of the girls can play worth a damn, and they opt to bang on a drum and bass haphazardly until they find Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a mild-mannered classical guitar player, and badger her into joining the band. She teaches them about music and they convince her to party and cut her hair into a kickass fade.
We Are the Best! is shot in an almost documentary style, with handheld work and lots of closeups. The pacing drags occasionally, but there are so many great moments, I couldn't tell you what to cut. When Bobo throws the basketball to the wrong team in gym class and the other kids start yelling at her, Klara rushes to her defense and the coach makes them both run laps. This leads to the girls writing their first (and amusingly terrible) song, "Hate the Sport." If only every gym-class-hating teenage misfit could have such a fierce friend to rush to her defense.
The film also takes care to be empathetic to the adults in the girls' lives. They are trying their best, but screwing up as humans are wont to do. Bobo's mom sometimes gets too wrapped up in her series of boyfriends to pay much attention to her. Klara's parents sometimes fight over stupid stuff, but then her goofy dad grabs a clarinet and tries to play along with her at band practice. Classic dad maneuver.
Boys enter the picture, too, when Klara gets the idea to call up dudes in a punk band profiled in a Swedish zine. The totally cool leather-jacketed rock stars turn out to be awkward, shy teens like the girls. Bobo and Klara fight over who gets to date the drummer, but ultimately, realize their friendship is more important than a guy. It's another valuable lesson for the characters, and serves as something of an emotional climax for a film that, for better or worse, meanders along following these bumbling teens without much of a tidy storyline. Though not always very exciting, it's perfectly realistic.
We also get a concert scene—but, without giving much away, not exactly a triumphant one. This matters not, because Klara, Bobo and Hedvig are proud that they fought to do exactly what they wanted. I'd hope as much for any of the real-life girls and women who are just like them.
We Are the Best! continues at the Roxy Fri., July 4–Sun., July 6, at 7:15 and 9:15 PM nightly.