Looking through Lukas Moodysson’s filmography, I realise that almost accidentally I’ve seen nearly all of his films. His early ones were most likely watched late night on SBS when I was no doubt intrigued by the coveted ‘s’ and ‘n’ in the TV guide, promising me scintillating European sex and nudity. What I got instead, with films like Show Me Love and Together, was an introduction to world cinema with humanist stories about people that I could recognise in my own life.
After a slew of bleaker films in recent years, Moodysson is revisiting the warmth of those earlier efforts. What he has created with We Are The Best is a deeply personal project, this time adapting his wife (Coco Moodysson)’s autobiographical graphic novel about growing up in early 80’s Stockholm and starting a punk band with some friends, a few years after Punk has been declared dead. Keeping the comic’s period setting is key as it infuses the film with a sense of authenticity that the best coming of age dramas contain. Although calling this film a ‘coming of age drama’ perhaps does it a mild disservice as it manages to avoid many pitfalls of the genre and ends up being more of a study of a friendship. Not to mention that it can be funnier than most modern comedies.
Bobo and Klara are restless teenagers who start their own band after taking advantage of the instruments at their local Youth Group. Deciding that the best way to fight the system would be through music, they begin work on their opus (Hate the Sport!) in earnest. After encountering their first issue of not actually knowing how to play (“Do drums have chords?”) they soon go after an unlikely co-conspirator who may actually be able to foster their raw ‘talent’. The naturalistic effect is bolstered by hand-held camera work and languid editing. Moodysson transports the viewer to their own teenage years by way of his effortlessly relatable lead characters. Bobo tries to manage her own life as her mother seems to slip backwards to adolescence, while Hedvig, the Christian classically trained guitarist the girls recruit, plays both den mother and music teacher to her new naïve friends.
All three young actors give strong, natural performances and seem completely unaware of the camera but Mira Grosin (Klara) is the stand-out. Sporting oversized clothes and a mo-hawk, she brings an anarchic, joyful spirit to every scene, flitting between passive aggressive put-downs and earnest declarations of love. Whereas many dramas overload child characters with an abundance of adult insight, these three girls are refreshingly innocent in their proposed battle against the world. Their plans for the band are delightfully simplistic and their political views are underdeveloped, mostly informed by their favourite punk lyrics. It’s these flaws that make the characters much more real, and the continued use of close-ups give a genuine sense of intimacy to proceedings.
For all the girls posturing, they find it hard to embrace the hard reality of band life. A scheme in which they beg for change on the street, making up stories of hardship in order get enough money to buy an electric guitar, is brought to an end after a single afternoon when they get bored and spend the cash on ice cream instead.
A sweet, warm-hearted story of teenage friendship – with a spikey punk rock heart.
– Tom Roe