By Carly Riter
It is safe to say that Amy Poehler is definitely a fan favorite. With hilarious roles like Leslie Knope on Parks and Recreation, the “cool mom” in Mean Girls, and so many more, Amy Poehler is oftentimes revered for her comedic genius. In addition to her impressive resume as an actress, she has also directed and/or produced Sisters, Wine Country, and most recently, Moxie, which was released onto Netflix on March third.
Moxie is centered around Lisa Carter’s (Amy Poehler) daughter, Vivan Carter (Hadley Robinson), as she discovers her passion for feminism and activism. As a high school student, Vivian has tolerated years of sexist comments and actions from the boys around her. When the new girl in school, Lucy Hernandez (Alycia Pascual-Peña), chooses to fight back against the sexism, Vivian finally realizes that complacency isn’t her only option. Fueled by Lucy’s courage as well as recounted memories of her mother’s teenage activism, Vivian decides to circulate an anonymous zine full of feminist ideas throughout her school. The zine inspires a group of girls including Vivian and her lifelong friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) to start a club called Moxie where they aim to fight against misogyny. While Vivian’s sudden change in personality causes her to make a lot of new friends through Moxie, it also makes her drift from Claudia due to differing values and opinions on feminism.
As Moxie’s message and actions start to catch fire, the school retaliates against the club in favor of protecting the beloved football player and notorious sexist, Mitchell Wilson (Patrick Shwarzenegger). In a surprising turn of events, Claudia takes the fall for the zine and is suspended from school. Unsurprisingly, however, Vivian still doesn’t have the courage to own up to starting Moxie and bail Claudia out. This changes when Vivian receives an anonymous letter from a student saying she was raped by Mitchell. Driven by anger and a sense of justice, Vivian spray paints a feminist message on the school and also stages a walkout where she finally admits to being the creator of Moxie. The movie quite literally becomes a “happily ever after” following Vivian’s confession, and the characters all congregate for a spontaneous dance party.
The overall message of Moxie was to inspire courage in everyone to stand for what is important to them and to fight for what is right, and on paper, it sounds like Amy Poehler accomplished just that… however, the delivery of a theme is way more important than the theme itself. As it is advertised as a feminist coming of age film, most of Moxie’s audience are coming from exceptional movies like Booksmart, Lady Bird, and, Eighth Grade, which all are undoubtedly realistic in their portrayals of young women’s journey to self discovery. Before it was even released, Moxie had some tough competition, and the comparisons to those movies do not do Moxie any favors.
For such a relevant and timely issue, Poehler shockingly plays it on the safe side. In an aim to keep things lighthearted and optimistic, Moxie became incredibly unrealistic in a way that almost mocks modern day issues. All of the misogyny rooted deep inside the school system neatly vanishes from existence after the walkout in the finale, so much so that they throw all their worries away and go to a dance party. The potential for serious discussions of real issues is totally lost when the movie itself cannot even focus on the complexity of these issues before diverting to disco. This creative choice would be somewhat understandable if Moxie was mostly a comedy, but the lack of humor insinuates that the movie was eventually going to cover weighty subjects. Yet again, it fell short.
Probably the most obvious problem with Moxie was the tendency for the main character, Vivian, to use women of color for her own character development. The entire movie revolves around feminism, yet our main character couldn’t care less about feminism until she met Lucy, a black and hispanic character who wouldn’t tolerate any form of harassment. Many of the other female students in the club also tell their stories of facing both racism and sexism. In addition, Vivian’s childhood friend, Claudia, faces obstacles Vivian could never understand as a first generation Asian American. With all these things considered, watching Moxie through the lens of a white character who does nothing to address racial disparities within feminism gives viewers an overall feeling of uneasiness since it is clear that we are watching the story play out through the wrong voice. The least Moxie could have done was give a worthwhile discussion about intersectionality in feminism, but all we got was half a conversation that was abandoned for the purpose of a clean and happy ending. There was so much potential for how Poehler could have led this movie, and somehow she still chose the most vapid option.
The cherry on top is how shockingly out of touch Poehler is with high school life. Between stereotypical party scenes and school environments, Hollywood just cannot seem to nail a realistic high school experience. The cringe worthy moments are plentiful and exhausting, so much so that it’s probably better to just turn the TV off before you waste too much of your time. With pretty average cinematography and creative choice, it is clear that Moxie’s feminist message is supposed to be it’s winning factor, but even that turned out to be a flop in its delivery.
Although Poehler surely had good intentions with Moxie, it is honestly shocking that she wrote and directed this movie without seeing all of its drawbacks. For all of its flaws, I rate Moxie one flame out of five. If you’re looking for a light-hearted, flat movie with a pretty good soundtrack, then Moxie is right for you. Otherwise, I wouldn’t waste the effort.