Scandinavian filmmakers seem to have mastered the art of telling serious stories with just the right amount of humour and whimsy to prevent their films from becoming bogged down in earnestness. Of course, we can’t apply such a sweeping generalisation to every filmmaker from the Nordic regions, but there certainly has been a series of such films in recent years (Simple Simon, The Liverpool Goalie) that have been as amusing as much as they have been insightful. Furthermore, several Scandinavian films of recent times – from Lilya 4 Ever to Turn Me On, Dammit to Let the Right One In and many more besides – have placed young characters front and centre of the narrative, often relying on hitherto unknown actors to carry the film, usually with surprisingly effective results. With We are The Best, Swedish director Lukas Moodysson (Fucking Amal and the aforementioned Lilya 4 Ever) continues such traditions in presenting a bittersweet comedy that manages to effectively assay the trials and tribulations of teenage life in Stockholm in the early ‘80’s.
13-year-old Klara (Mira Grosin) is desperate to be a rebel, even if she has no idea what she might be rebelling against. She shares a love of punk music with her best friend BoBo (Mira Barkhammar), a fellow outcast amongst the cliques and social factions of their high school. The girls are all but inseparable and, initially in an effort to spite a group of older boys at the local youth club, they decide to start a band, even though neither of them can play an instrument. Their initial attempts to write a song are farcical and they soon recruit Hedwig (Liv Lemoyne), a quiet Christian girl who just happens to possess considerable skill as a guitar player. There is a great naturalness to these characters as they react and interact with each other and the various other people in their periphery, such as their parents and two well-meaning but utterly clueless supervisors from the youth centre. The girls know that they don’t really fit in with the other kids, but they are yet to find their own place in the world. The characters seem very real; laden with the uncertainty and the search for identity that we all experience at that time in our lives. Klara’s tough exterior masks her inner vulnerabilities and insecurities, while BoBo is all but invisible to everybody except her best friend. At one point Bobo’s mother is so focussed on entertaining a potential new boyfriend that she is completely oblivious to the fact that her daughter isn’t home; it is only a phone call from BoBo that alerts her to the fact. For Hedwig, meanwhile, these new friendships lead her to question the values and ideologies – instilled by her pious mother – that have thus far shaped her life.
Whilst the film looks a little rough around the edges at times and there are moments that, in the hands of Harvey Weinstein, would have been lost in the edit, it seems a deliberate ploy by Moodysson to linger on the awkward silences and seemingly banal conversations to reflect the everyday-ness of this world in which these girls exist. Much of the humour comes from Klara’s attempts to find an outlet for her anger through song. The problem is that she doesn’t really have anything to be angry about, or much of a talent for song writing, so it is the school PE teacher becomes the target of her ‘fury’. Despite only having one song in their arsenal – Hate the Sport – the girls are given an opportunity to perform at a local band showcase, an appearance that brings the film to a chaotic and downright hilarious end; a climax that is as surprising as it is perfect for these three clueless but utterly endearing wannabe rebels.
As you might expect from a story revolving around three teenage girls, experiments with alcohol and the pursuit of boys form part of the story and Moodyson elicits spirited, engaging performances from his three inexperienced young leads. Whilst the film is certainly not a celebration of punk music as an intellectual exercise – epitomised by the song Brezhnev and Reagan, Fuck Off that is performed by the all-male band with whom the girls develop a relationship – We Are the Best most certainly posits the appeal of punk as an outlet for those who don’t fit in anywhere else. Delivered with a warm-hearted vitality, We Are the Best is, first and foremost, a joyous, vibrant celebration of adolescent female friendship.