Tuesday, May 27, 2014

WE ARE THE BEST! Lukas Moodysson gets back on track with an energizing paean to adolescence

After his prolonged visit to the dark and dismal side -- Lilya 4-ever, A Hole in My Heart, the odd but at least short Container and finally the bottom-of-the-barrel Mammoth -- Lukas Moodysson bounces back with the kind of movie in which he first made waves (Show Me Love, Together). His new one is titled WE ARE THE BEST! and for once that exclamation point is not de trop. This tale -- of two young girls (from the looks of it, they're middle-school age) who form a "girl band" with literally no experience to back them up, and the third girl they bring in who actually plays an instrument -- is so full of vitality and life bursting from its seams that, from the first few frames, you're smiling and hooked.

I am not sure what it was that sent Mr. Moodysson (at left) to the brink of despair (with, I must add, little natural talent to bring this despair to anything but tired, pile-it-on-with-a-shovel storytelling), but it is awfully good to have him back where it would appear he belongs. That would entail giving us a lighthearted but quite real look at Scandinavian kids in Stockholm circa the 1980s. They're distinctive, maybe a little too "different" and somewhat troubled by their family situation or how they're treated at school, yet they're able to handle this via friendship and Scandinavian culture ("Democracy," as somebody in the movie smartly notes).

As played by Mira Barkhammar (Bobo, above center), Mira Grosin (Klara, at right) and Liv LeMoyne (Hedvig, at left), they're as genuine as they are delightful -- and as enjoyable to spend time with as any kid characters I've seen on film since those in The Way Way Back.

As directed and co-adapted by Moodysson, from his wife Coco's comic book, the movie simply sails along full-speed from scene to funny scene -- none of which go for any over-the-top laughs. But the film'll still keep a smile on your face all the way through.

Scene after scene works beautifully -- bonding over a cut on the hand, the "religious" discussion, the haircut, the food fight, the punk boy band the girls meet and go all gooey over -- and in this case, as usual, it's a male who screws things up a bit.

Especially fine are the scenes detailing how the girls first imagine becoming a band and then begin to think up a song and lyrics. All this is smart and amusing and quite believable, too. This may be lightweight stuff, wrapped in a nice time capsule, but there's hardly a more enjoyable hundred minutes of movie viewing currently available.

We Are the Best! -- from Magnolia Pictures -- opens this Friday, May 30, in New York City at the film centers Angelika and Elinor Bunin Munroe, in West Los Angeles at the NuArt, and across Canada in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. In the weeks to come it'll play all across the USA. To see currently scheduled playdates, click here.

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