AFI Fest 2013
By Don Simpson | November 17, 2013
Director: Lukas Moodysson
Writers: Lukas Moodysson, Coco Moodysson (graphic novel Never Goodnight)
Starring: Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, Liv LeMoyne, David Dencik, Henrik Dahl, Mads Korsgaard, Alexander Karlsson, Berndt Östman, Steve Kratz, Ann-Sofie Rase, Jonathan Salomonsson, Lena Carlsson, Anna Rydgren, Johan Liljemark, Charlie Falk, Mattias Wiberg, Peter Eriksson, Ylva Olaison, Per Fenger-Krog, Alvin Strollo, Vanja Engström
Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are 7th graders in Stockholm circa 1982 who have differentiated themselves from their blonde-haired and blue-eyed Swedish peers by adopting punk rock personas. Punk is an easy way for Bobo and Klara to define themselves given that they do not like sports and do not subscribe to the mainstream definition of beauty. But being punk is not just a superficial notion for either of them; Bobo is fascinated by punk’s political idealism, while Klara is more of an anarchist and provocateur. Their hairstyles and individualist fashion sense obviously attracts some bullying from the popular kids at school, but Bobo and Klara seem to be pretty well adapted to brushing off the sneering borage of insults.
On one fateful day, in an effort to get a heavy metal band to stop rehearsing their offensively loud music in the local youth center, Bobo and Klara opt to fight music with music and start a band of their own. They may not own any instruments — luckily the youth center has a house drum kit and bass guitar — or have any musical training, but what is more punk rock than that? Klara instantly gravitates towards the bass and microphone, forcing Bobo to take a seat at the drum kit. Not long afterwards, they have hobbled together a rough outline of their first punk rock anthem, “Hate the Sport!” — a raucous rebellion against gym class, of course.
All that is missing is a guitarist; so they recruit a talented classical guitarist, Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), who is versatile enough to also be able to help teach Bobo and Klara the basics of how to play their instruments. Hedvig is an outcast, just like Bobo and Klara, except she has been shunned by the popular kids because of her strict religious convictions. Bobo and Klara do their best to convert Hedvig from a devout Christian into a devout punk rocker — the first step being a shocking new hairdo, which Hedvig’s mother (Ann-Sofie Rase) hates so much that she threatens to have Bobo and Klara arrested.
Lukas Moodysson’s We Are the Best! is certainly one of the most honest portrayals of adolescent punk culture that I have ever seen. Adapted from his wife, Coco Moodysson’s semi-autobiographical graphic novel, Never Goodnight, We Are the Best! perfectly captures the adolescent desire for self-expression and individuality. We Are the Best! prompted me to look back at my own glory days as an adolescent punk rocker in the mid-1980s, making me realize that the anti-establishment mentality and rejection of mainstream society that defined my personal punk ethos, also defined my feelings as an adolescent. The same goes for Bobo, Klara and Hedvig, they are going through an adolescent rite of passage that is most likely fueled by their raging hormones and desire to fit in. It is important to note that Bobo, Klara and Hedvig are not bad kids; other than some innocent panhandling and occasionally misleading their parents, they do nothing wrong. Bobo, Klara and Hedvig are just dealing with their adolescent insecurities by recalibrating their personal definitions of acceptance. They would rather hang out with a local, all-male punk band (authors of a catchy little ditty titled “Brezhnev and Reagan, Fuck Off!”) than the stars of AIK, just as they would rather bang on their instruments than perform a dance routine to Human League’s “Don’t You Want Me.”
Not unfamiliar with telling stories from a female vantage point (Show Me Love, Lilya 4-Ever), Moodysson is able to maintain the unique perspective of the graphic novel. Moodysson seems to truly understand the underlying bonds between Bobo and Klara, while skillfully refraining from overdramatizing their relationship. Other than some venomous insults from the peanut gallery, their tomboyish style is not a stereotypical reflection of their sexuality. Bobo, Klara and Hedvig never seem to question their gender; instead, it is their unwavering confidence in themselves that allows them to proudly not adhere to the conformist notion of beauty. Moodysson also allows the girls to wear their adolescent naiveté like a badge of honor, perhaps recognizing that it was a similar naiveté that produced such great female punk bands as The Raincoats, The Slits and LiLiPUT/Kleenex.