After much darker fare, such as Lilya 4-Ever (2002), Lukas Moodysson returns to exceedingly lighter territory with the brilliantly-titled We Are the Best! (Exclamation mark is included.) This is similar in tone to Together (2000) – a film about life in a seventies commune – and sits well as a companion piece to that. As a great example of constructive nepotism We Are the Best! is adapted from the director’s wife, Coco Moodysson’s graphic novel, Never Goodnight.
It’s Stockholm, 1982. Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) – who are on the brink of their teens – start a punk band. Everyone tells them punk is dead but they persist. They also have no musical experience. Or instruments. They recruit Hedvig who, although straight-laced and Christian, is an accomplished guitarist. They decide to draw her away from Jesus and re-style her to comic effect. They befriend some boys in another punk band. Romantic entanglements ensue and friendships are pushed to their limits. All the while they deal with the trials of childhood – school sports are torturous and parents prove to be an excruciating embarrassment.
The intoxicating effect of musical discovery when you’re young is captured brilliantly. The girls’ passion for punk and for issues, like the nuclear threat, is endearing. When matters of age and gender get in the way, they plough on regardless with a formidable punk ethos. It portrays the exuberance of youth in all of its messiness and often silliness. Their sloppy, unkempt modus operandi is in itself intrinsically punk. They are also portrayed very realistically as children. Hollywood has a peculiar inclination to often paint youngsters as other-wordly savants trapped in the bodies of children. (As seen played by the likes of Haley Joel Osment and Dakota Fanning.) Here, there is no such nonsense. These kids are kids.
Moodysson’s style is clean, simple and very effective. There is nothing showboating about his direction. It is all so natural, it brings to mind John Cassavetes. As with that legendary director, Moodysson's attention to the acting is palpable - he draws fantastic performances from the girls. The film rests on their shoulders and they impress throughout. The film is very funny too. Maybe don’t expect huge belly laughs but it does deliver a consistent stream of lovely chuckles. It is also touching and warm. We Are the Best! is undeniably feel-good but achieves indie grit through its realism. No whiff of cheese here, I can assure you.