Sweden coming-of-age tale for all ages
It’s 1982 in Stockholm and punk is dead. Well, almost dead. Two boyish preteen girls, Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin), start a punk band in the rehearsal space of their after-school youth center. A coming-of-age story unlike any other, “We Are the Best!” (“Vi är bäst!” in its native Swedish) is a fun, endearing film, thanks in large part to the talented performances of its three young leads.
As the film shows through glimpses into their home lives, it’s not hard to imagine why the girls are in the mood for some rebellion. Bobo’s mother is a bit of a party animal and can’t seem to keep a steady man. Bobo is exposed to different men on a regular basis, and her father is only seen once, briefly, for a dinner around a strained nuclear family table. Klara, on the other hand, just seems to enjoy rallying against anything and everything she can. At the ripe age of thirteen, she’s adamant in her atheistic beliefs, swears with reckless abandon with her acerbic tongue and labels virtually everyone that disagrees with her as a ‘conservative.’
What’s also remarkable about these girls is their physical appearance. Both Klara, adorned with a mohawk, and Bobo, bespectacled with short spiked hair, look very much like young boys. Indeed, for the first opening moments of the film, I thought that Bobo was a boy. They don’t fall under society’s standard definition of beauty and attraction; the boys at school and the youth center let them crassly know as much. The only friends they have are each other and that seems to be enough for them.
Bobo and Klara come to the realization that they have no idea what they are doing by haphazardly beating on the drums, screaming into the microphone and strumming the bass (indeed, one of them even asks, in one of the movie’s more humorous lines, if drums have chords). They see Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a loner Christian girl, play the acoustic guitar beautifully at the school talent show, and enlist her to help them make something of their ragtag, fly-by-night operation. Of course, Klara ribs Hedvig over her beliefs, but nothing ever comes to a head. Thankfully, this is not a movie where a great crisis of faith becomes some hack plot point.
These are characters who already are developed from the film’s outset. Their identities, which seem so decidedly set in stone even at their young age, start to shift. Bobo sees herself in Klara’s shadow and wants to assert herself. Previously fashioning herself an atheist, Bobo begins to see herself as agnostic. Hedvig lets her new friends give her a homemade haircut, her flowing blonde hair becoming an amateur pixie cut. Even the unbending Klara wears a touch of eyeliner to impress Elis (Jonathan Salomonsson), a young boy who’s also in a punk band. The movie’s best scenes are the tender moments when we are reminded that, despite all of their ideals and problems, Bobo, Klara and Hedvig are still naïve, innocent children.
Eventually, desires begin to conflict (the conflict, of course, deals with boy problems) and the movie reaches its ‘dark night of the soul.’ Though it’s inevitable in a film’s structure for the protagonists to not hit their lowest point, this part of the film feels a little canned. This is probably because, up until this point, the film is filled to the brim with the energy and spontaneity of its leading ladies.
It needs to be noted that Barkhammar, Grosin and LeMoyne each give fine performances. It would be easy to say that Grosin runs away with the show as the loud Klara, but Barkhammar and LeMoyne do equally well with the more subdued roles. They form a dysfunctional trio that works. Just don’t call them a girl band, as one of the youth counselors made the mistake of doing: they’re a punk band.“We are the Best!” is currently playing at The Loft Cinema.