Remember when Netflix originals were actually exciting to watch? “Moxie” isn’t. This coming-of-age movie crams in too many substances without execution, its characters fail to be fully fleshed out, while its delivery of an issue as nuanced as American feminism remains hollow and sluggish.
“Moxie” is set around Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a shy white girl in a diverse high school named Rockport, the essence of which traces back to Poehler’s signature vision in “Mean Girls”. While Poehler is not on the director’s chair, she can be found taking care of Vivian as her single mom. Accompanying Vivian is her know-it-all Asian best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) and boyfriend Seth (Nico Hiraga). The new-kid-on-the-block Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) comes in as a driving force and voice of the feminist club “Moxie”, which was anonymously founded by Vivian out of frustration for the sexism she found in her home or class. Patrick Schwarzenegger saves the day, as his performance lifts up an otherwise generic antagonist that audiences are supposed to hate: white, arrogant, flirty team captain Mitchel the jock, whose behaviors are more often than not excused and overlooked.
The characterization of the protagonist is troublesome. Instead of learning a valuable lesson of teamwork and activism, Vivian reacts inexplicably poorly to everyone around her for her failure. It’s incredulous as to why, since most of the problems are caused by her lack of confidence, or as Claudia puts it, “cowardice”. Vandalizing school properties, demeaning people who don’t share her ideals, letting POC supporting characters take all the responsibilities, and most importantly processing new-found feminism knowledge without in-depth thinking, Vivian doesn’t represent a respectable female figure for young girls, but rather their fantasy of rebelling against the world in the name of a greater cause.
Her immaturity reaches its peak at the dinner scene, where Vivian verbally harrasses others with a lack of proper understanding of history, politics and the nuanced dynamics of feminism and race relations. To put it simply, it’s not a good lesson for students of a high school as diverse as Wilson to learn.
To add insults to injuries, the screenplay of “Moxie” is written by Dylan Meyer and Tamara Chestna, both of whom have little experiences in writing a convincingly memorable script besides the equally corny 2019 “After”. This inexperience soon reveals itself. The early moments of sexism, which would have served as the inspiration for Vivian, feel forced and unnatural. Dialogues are quirky and tailor-made for teenagers. The underdeveloped love stories fall flat at the anticlimax of the movie, while audiences are left confused at the out of place LGBTQ+ romance of the side characters.
It begs the question as to why “Moxie”, a movie that starts out with a good intention, ends up with such a disheveled composition. The answer: cramming. Feminism, racism, immigration and the American Dream – these are acutely complex and interpolating themes that need to be carefully and deliberately executed, the likes of which don’t fit in a YA comedy-drama.
How come feminism equals tripping up an uninvolved male friend to the point of injury, and being proud of such action? Female empowerment is reduced to mom’s stories and the capability of a 16-year-old, which is painfully interlaced with a distractingly loud and off-beat “Rebel Girl” soundtrack. Racial issues lack proper development and were not explicitly discussed until 180 minutes into the movie. “Good” immigrants, the Asian model minority and fear of activism could have been a great theme to explore in the friendship of Vivian and Claudia, yet all it gets is a mere one-minute of screen time.
As each of these points are brought up and left unresolved, Vivian rushes off to make a zine, or clashes with the people who are rooting for her. In the end, to Vivian and the girls of Rockport, the only takeaway is to be given the mic and be heard. The message isn’t bad; it simply shouldn’t have stretched itself too thin across a multitude of issues and fail to tie them in together.
It’d be unfair not to mention the efforts at which these screenwriters attempt to remark the girls’ struggle: the use of the end-of-year objectifying ranking list was effective; the decision to make the school principal a female showed how women can also uphold and reinforce the patriarchy. Unfortunately, “Moxie” is riddled with too many predictable, box-ticking moments that these highlights are left overshadowed.
For all the problems above, “Moxie” gets a D- on a scale of A to F. Not because of its premise, nor of its cast’s performance: it’s due to the promises that the movie sets out but never manages to accomplish.