Is it possible to describe a punk rock band as adorable? Well, if Lukas Moodysson's latest film "We Are the Best!" is any indication, the answer is a resounding yes. With this sweet little story, Moodysson challenges our expectations of this counterculture music genre.
The band in question is the brainchild of Bobo and Klara, a pair of pre-teen girls in 1980s Sweden. Strongly opposed to the idea that punk is dead, the decide to break the mould and prove the naysayers wrong. They certainly look the part with their boyish cropped hair and grungy clothing, but sadly they lack any musical talent. They therefore seek help, recruiting one of their school's misfits (a Christian girl named Hedvig) to give them some tips. As they set out to prove themselves as a legitimate punk band, they learn a little more about themselves in the process.
The film gets off to a slow start, taking its time to introduce the characters and their personalities. Klara is clearly far more self-assured and outspoken of the two friends, but they share a similar worldview, especially when it comes to a typical adolescent resentment of their parents (who seem perfectly normal mind you). As we learn more about them, there isn't any groundswell of injustice that sparks their punk rock activism. Really, their most pressing concern comes from their school's requirement that they engage in physical activity. This forms the basis of the band's first song - a tirade about their hatred for sports. Obviously, this makes for a flimsy political stance and the film's first half thus feels very slight.
Yet this same trivial foundation turns out to be the film's winning touch in the film's latter half. When Hedvig joins the group and they start making something that resembles music, the band starts to expand their horizons (planning to buy new instruments and making connections with fellow young punk rockers). The real kicker then, is how quickly they disregard their tough punk values for childish delights like candy and looking pretty for boys. The formation of the band turns out to be just an excuse for the girls to have fun together. As such, their non-threatening attitude may not be "real" punk, but who cares? As they proclaim in the film, they are the best and that's all that matters.
This joie de vivre is unmistakably indicative of childhood and these young actresses (Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin and Liv LeMoyne) give it a raw honesty. They are so impressive that it's impossible to determine whether the performances are the result of good direction (as is often assumed) or just natural acting talent. Either way, it worked (aided by the strong "fly-on-the-wall" camerawork and believable dialogue). Their characters are light-hearted and immensely likable (their acceptance of Hedvig is particularly sweet) and you can't help but root for them.
The film's trio of rebels may never become serious activists like Pussy Riot, but that's perfectly fine. "We Are The Best" succeeds as a heartwarming tale about friendship and the unifying power of music. It's punk with a smile.