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‘We Are the Best’: When Swedish Punk Rock Is Amplified by #YesAllWomen

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We Are the Best saunters in like a kid with a free afternoon, effortlessly confronting the most subversive forms of male chauvinism.

After working their asses off to turn noise into somewhat-listenable noise, a youth counselor enlists We Are the Best's androgynous, mohawked, 13-year-old rocker wannabes for a gig at a rec center. He sees talent in the young rebels, but he also wants to diversify the showcase with “a girl band.” “We're not a girl band,” snaps Klara, the group's brash ringleader. The well-meaning chaperone wonders what they could possibly be if they aren't a girl band. All three wonder aloud: “A band?”

In the aftermath of misogynistic terror, in the glow of women across the nation linking arms in solidarity, in the explosion of think pieces dictating how to proceed from here, We Are the Best saunters in like a kid with a free afternoon, effortlessly confronting the most subversive forms of male chauvinism. The latest coming-of-age drama from Swedish director Lukas Moodysson unfolds across Stockholm, 1982, but the problems Klara (Mira Grosin), Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), and Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) face as they wage punk war on rigid society are recognizable plights of today. These are pre-teen women exploring identities through “boyish” haircuts, expressing themselves with anti-establishment, pitchy screaming, and testing the strength of friendship and family by dipping their toes into the dating pools. Like everyone on this planet, they want to roar. To do so, they side-step a society that tells them they shouldn't.

Klara and Bobo are outcasts at their local middle school. Boys and girls alike chastise them for their looks, and they have little to cling to academically. Home life is calmer, but as contentious; Klara's siblings and parents poke her for acting like a weirdo. Bobo's divorcee mother is the life of every party, which she's either attending or throwing, leaving her daughter to retreat to Klara's on a nightly basis. Their latest obsession is music. Specifically, head-banging rock tunes with infectious melodies and a penchant for mischief. When they finally pick up instruments at their local youth center, it's a match made in heaven.

If the convivial duo were on the road to become the next Pussy Riot, We Are the Best might blast through the early days of the ladies' musical adventures straight to their major gigs and eventual downfall. Instead, it luxuriates in the “making of the band” moments. Klara and Bobo aren't good performers. They can barely be called musicians. But music minds and enables them. To elevate their “skills,” the two recruit Hedvig, a God-fearing classical guitarist who lives in another vacant social circle far from their own. Hedvig's trapped in a prison of her mother's construct, where deviating from social norms and the studious path mean crossing over to a dark side. But as the sounds of Ebba Grön help Klara and Bobo blossom into individuals, the excitement emitted over Hedvig's guitar playing helps the sheltered teen grow into herself.

Moodysson's direction, casual and curious like its leads, allows the pivotal moments to hang in the air without stirring up melodrama. The girls' roughest patch comes when Klara sheers off Hedvig's blonde locks in favor of a best-case-scenario Flock of Seagulls do. Her mother is livid, threatening to press charges against Klara and Bobo unless they promise to attend church with her. When the two refuse in a minor spat, the issue eventually drops off the table. They reconcile with Hedvig, who they learn adores the haircut.

Klara, Bobo, and Hedvig's behavior could be reduced to universal misbehaving if it weren't perceived by the people around them as “boys will be boys” goofing off. If they were young boys, their parents might brush it off, their classmates wouldn't give two shits about their punk anarchy, and their supervisors at the rec center would treat them with all the respect of the other male bands. It's a truth that smolders throughout We Are the Best! and watching the girls take it head on is exhilarating. The girls aren't devoid of femininity — late in the film, the trio decided to cold call some punk dudes for the all-important social exercise of walking around aimlessly. Klara latches to one — yeah, they're boyfriend and girlfriend now. But he's also the guy Bobo liked. Drama. Adorable, rich, recognizable drama to overcome by understanding.

We Are the Best! is for young girls, young boys destined to encounter said young girls, parents attempting to raise young girls and/or young boys, and, basically, anyone with an identity. The #YesAllWomen sprang up from the scorched earth of Twitter this week to remind people of every hurdle females face on a daily basis, whether its direct attacks or crippling paranoia or “insignificant” comments that slowly erode confidence. Each comment, each person matters. We Are the Best! is a thrashing love ballad to the bravery it takes to seize the microphone and let the freak flag fly.

Image via Indiewire