Starring Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin & Liv LeMoyne
Available on DVD now
Bobo (Barkhammar) is just 13, as is her friend Klara (Grosin), and they both love punk. To shut up the local bad rock band- ‘Iron Fist’- they book out their youth club’s rehearsal room. But this requires them to establish their own band, which is complicated by the fact that they have no songs and no instruments. We Are The Best! follows these two- and later their much more talented friend Hedvig (LeMoyne) – as they forge ahead in proving that punk’s not dead in 1982.
Lukas Moodysson, previously best known for Show Me Love, steps forward from darker art fare to offer this honest, heartfelt take on the punk scene in Sweden in 1982. But it steps beyond this specific background to show something ineffable about the cusp of teenhood. For example - Bobo has a crush on Linus (Charlie Falk) Klara’s brother, and tries to impress him by drinking at his party. She throws up on his records instead. Klara dismisses her brother, saying he deserted punk, that he only listens to Joy Division now; in this, and in the unfortunate records-vomit incident, I saw my own teens reflected. Granted, that might be more an indictment of me than I hope, but I think it’s fitting praise for a film that strives to bring out the best of punk and teens. Even when the characters are being nasty, they’re funny and true to life: the girls debate whether to let a Christian girl join their group, Bobo opining ‘I think it’s political to be hanging out with the less fortunate’. That kind of dialogue is prevalent in the innocent egocentrism of kids, and Moodysson captures it perfectly.
Working with a young cast can be difficult for a number of reasons, but Moodysson battles them here by employing improvisational techniques, fostering a real friendship that’s obvious in the fits of giggles the girls find themselves in. This is most clear in an early sequence, where the girls build a nuclear wasteland diorama, and then are made fun of by passing older boys. Cameras are mounted on tripods and use zooms to capture action as it happens, allowing for the younger actors to build their performances as the scenes progress. This gets the best dialogue – when the girls kick out the older boys from their rehearsal a youth club worker says ‘Calm down! Democracy!’ and the immortal ‘I’m busy after that dough war.’ This improvisational style lends warmth to a film that could easily have been sterile; in a curious way, it mirrors the difference between the electro-pop the girls hate, or mainstream filmmaking, and the punk they adore, or the more social realist, improvisational approach of Moodysson.
Aided by Moodysson’s directorial approach, the girls really shine in their roles. Barkhammar shoulders the weight of the film as protagonist Bobo, and is skilled at that rare ability in the best of actors- let alone child actors- to simply show the process of thought inside her character with a facial expression. Bobo often stays silent in a scene, because Barkhammar’s face says it all. And, complimenting her quieter energy, Grosin as Klara channels a manic energy into her actions, portraying forceful belief (both self- and otherwise) in a stunning show of confidence for a kid of her age. The trio is completed by LeMoyne as Hedvig. Her role is played with a strange sort of dignity; she quietly defends her belief system and maintains friendships in the group. She’s diplomatic, stoic and has a great wit at her centre. And those aren’t qualities that can be easily found in child actors – by default they tend to be the loud ones! As it turns out, she’s also a great musician; she covers a Swedish punk anthem at one point, and it’s technically competent, mature, and one of a few quiet moments that actually help a film which is this kind of anarchic tick along at a proper pace.
It’s mostly refreshingly light, although it treats real issues seriously; Bobo’s home life isn’t great, and Hedvig’s mum is overbearing, and these are dealt with like the difficult topics they are. When Moodysson wants to tug the heartstrings, he does, offering a haunting shot of a lonely Bobo on her own on the snowy roof of an apartment building. But by and large, the film sticks to the positives of being a punk (and a teenager): it shows the vivacity, creativity, and self-determination inherent in those two things. These are irresistable qualities, and combined with a great cast and strong director, We Are The Best! is a joy to experience, a paean to punk and teens everywhere.