More than anything else, Moxie feels like a love letter to the riot grrrl feminist anthems of the 1990s, a tradition of rage and activism passed down from mother to daughter. There are more than a few nods to anti-establishment teen cinema from decades past, as well — it’s basically Pump Up the Volume by way of Mean Girls. Director Amy Poehler’s winsome, upbeat energy prevents Moxie from being too transgressive, but there’s an earnestness to their teenage rebellion that is ultimately endearing. A young, largely unknown ensemble cast creates an aspirational atmosphere of nonjudgmental sisterhood, which ends up being the most likable aspect of Moxie.
Vivian (Hadley Robinson) feels like the girl who perennially fades into the background of every room. She and her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) are basically counting down the days until they can run away to college and leave high school drama behind. On some level, they’re aware that many of the boys at their school are completely out of control (especially Mitchell played by Patrick Schwarzenegger, who is currently the frontrunner for the high school superlative of “Most Punchable Face”), but somewhere along the line they’ve cataloged their behavior as merely annoying and moved on.
It isn’t until Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) moves to town and starts challenging them on their predilection for sexual harassment (because, of course, it has to be the black woman’s job to enlighten her peers) that Vivian feels compelled to start her very own 90s-era feminist revolution. She secretly publishes a zine called Moxie, calling out the boys for their sexist behavior and the school administration for enabling it, and it isn’t long before it takes the entire school by storm. As their numbers grow, the Moxie crew finds the confidence and courage to challenge the misogynistic norms that pervade high school, from the dress codes that exclusively target girls to the complete apathy surrounding girls’ sports teams, regardless of their level of success.
Although there are modern touches (social media’s role in their feminist movement, for example), Moxie is very much an ode to 90s girl power. And while it’s fun to watch the riot grrrl scene of the 90s repackaged for a new generation, this sometimes works to its detriment. The idea that a group of Gen Z teenagers, a demographic known for being politically-minded and embracing activism, would need to be inspired by their parents’ generation to take a stand against sexism feels a little disingenuous.
It’s definitely to tell exactly who this movie is for: the youth of America or their well-intentioned but slightly out-of-touch parents. It’s also interesting that, although Vivian supposedly models her protest movement on the youthful rebellion of her mother, they’re only vaguely touched on. It might have been more effective to explore that dynamic in more detail so that Moxie could draw parallels between the two or provide commentary on how activism has changed since the 1990s. Amy Poehler is a top-notch cool mom, but it feels like a missed opportunity for an intergenerational conversation.
Moxie’s saving grace is the ensemble cast of teenagers assembled to form its protest movement. It feels casually intersectional in a way that highlights how women from different backgrounds can support one another while acknowledging that their varied experiences cause them to confront sexism in disparate ways. They have an easy and natural rapport with each other, and their interactions go a long way in lending Moxie some much-need charm.
And the inclusion of Seth (Nico Hiraga) as Moxie’s first male ally and Vivian’s love interest is inspired. It’s great for teenage girls to have a character like this to model how they deserve to be treated by men, unlike some of the on-screen schlubs we got stuck with in the 1980s and 1990s. He’s handsome and fun, and emotionally intelligent, three characteristics that Asian leading men rarely get to be, especially in teen romcoms.
Moxie has a lot going for it. Although it occasionally (well, more than occasionally) feels more like a middle-aged white woman’s imagining of Gen Z activism than reality (which makes perfect sense, given who’s behind the camera), it’s mostly endearing rather than cringe-inducing. It’s grounded by the young ensemble cast’s performances, all of whom bring warm, supportive energy that makes their brand of resistance as aspirational as it is inspirational.