The new film by Lukas Moodysson (Show Me Love) is We Are the Best! and, frankly, it’s a treasure. Set in early 1980s Stockholm, the film just gets so many details on the early stages on one’s teen years; those initial romances, jealousies and the all-encompassing power of music.
Here we have seventh-graders Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin), a pair of outcasts from different backgrounds. Bobo is part of a broken family, living with a mother prone to a series of rotating boyfriends, while Klara’s parents merely argue about laundry etiquette. The two friends have a mutual love of punk rock, even though its prime appears to have already fallen and loving it as they do is deemed unfashionable. That’s fine by Bobo and Klara though, for the twosome begin to plot their own band and concoct a song about the ridiculousness of caring about basketball in gym class in a world where millions suffer.
They eventually find a fresh loner in the devoutly Christian Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a seemingly more conservative girl with a background in classical guitar. Bonds grow though and the trio go through the kind of lives teens do at that age, while also preparing for a show in which their local youth-group is involved.
Moodysson’s movie never hits a wrong note. Based on the graphic novel by his wife Coco, Moodysson’s direction and script is nuanced without being heavy. There are small troubles in the lives of all three of these girls, from not looking traditionally “pretty” enough to always be the secondary member of a group. That second one is really well played here, as Bobo and Klara’s friendship is a joyous one, even as it’s one clearly dominated by the latter. Bobo enjoys her time with Klara. Nevertheless, Klara is the commanding presence, deciding who gets to play what instrument, causing trouble where none needs to be and always taking center stage. Friendships in movies are so regularly depicted as easy, with disruptions emerging over a minor slight. We Are the Best! gets the messiness that comes with a best friend perfectly.
It also nails the vitality of music to a teenager, how it can define a mindset, create connections with strangers and be a source of happiness amidst trouble. The scene of Bobo and Klara first fumbling with their instruments, barely able to keep a beat or a play a note is so honest in its enthusiasm. The same goes for a pair of moments where the two see people of greater talent display their skills. Their faces beam when they realize Hedvig knows – and can play – one of their favorite songs, and that sense of awe that washes over them as they watch two slightly older boys, complete with random zippers and leather, riff to some original punk tunes is magical.
Moodysson presents it all authentically. Our trio doesn’t become an excellent band over the matter of weeks. Their personal issues don’t disappear. Life goes forward, as it always does, but at this juncture for these three girls it does so with opinions and feelings that are rooted in something more than what their parents told them.