Moxie (M), 111 minutes, 3 stars
Boy, isn't Moxie a teen movie for - and of - the moment.
Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins, Angus Campbell, Linda Reynolds, Christian Porter are never mentioned, of course.
But what a week for streamer Netflix to drop a #MeToo-era Mean Girls exploring female empowerment, toxic masculinity, sexism, harassment and rape, plus the dangers of keep-your-head-down comformity.
Director Amy Poehler (the impossibly perky star of everyone's favourite binge-worthy streaming comedy Parks and Recreation) plays the happily single mother of smart but introverted 16-year-old Vivian (Hadley Robinson) who finds her sense of self and her long-time loyalty to dutiful BFF Claudia (Lauren Tsai) challenged by the cool new girl in class, Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pea). Vivian develops a budding romance with sensitive skater boy Seth (Nico Hiraga) and a growing anger with the way the sexist, bullying behaviour of football team captain Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger) is tolerated and even indulged by their school.
Inspired by her mum's Riot Grrrl rebellion as a teen, Vivian decides to speak out - anonymously at first - by publishing a zine called "Moxie" which calls out her school's misogynistic status quo and triggers a feminist uprising.
Yes, you read that right: a zine.
A DIY cut-and-paste booklet printed at the local photocopy shop may not be exactly Insta-cool these days, but god bless the enduring power of the press!
Powered by a soundtrack of Bikini Kill and other girl power indie rock, this coming-of-age dramedy has its heart in the right place - ie, proudly worn on its rolled-up sleeve as it shapes up to smash the patriarchy.
Like 2004's Mean Girls, Moxie celebrates a disaffected young woman's awakening to her school's hostile, victimising culture.
But it's not nearly as fully formed - or as hilarious - as that teen classic (scripted by Poehler's long-time performing partner Tina Fey) and probably too heavy-handed to hook those in the Gen-Z audience who'd benefit most from its message about male privilege.
Its villains (Schwarzenegger, son of Arnold, is suitably vile) and their enablers (Marcia Gay Harden is the infuriatingly complicit principal) are cardboard cut-outs, and the background canvas of racially and socially diverse supporting characters is too crowded to give any a meaningful moment.
Deserving plot threads are left hanging: unfair dress codes that make girls responsible for boys' behaviour; sidelining of the girls' soccer team in favour of boys' football; and how media like zines can galvanize freedom of speech into community action.
In trying to cram so much worthy commentary into its 111 minutes, Moxie looks, feels and flows like a zine - a cut-and-paste composition full of righteous passion but lacking persuasive depth and poise.
The authenticity of Robinson, Pascual-Pea and Hiraga certainly helps to keep the bitter and sweet moments watchable, even if the film seems torn between being fierce or funny. And while it's pleasing to know the High School Movie format that has helped shape and define successive generations is still prodding adolescents to become socially and politically conscious, Poehler's contribution to the genre ends up easier to admire than to enjoy.
Maybe because it's been too long since I've watched a teen movie with my now adult daughters (yes, this calls for a family intervention - time to dust off Say Anything I think), it's hard to know if the teens of 2021 will find Moxie uplifting or eye-rolling. I suspect it'll be the latter.
- Moxie is now streaming on Netflix.