Amy Poehler’s second directorial outing is a formulaic yet sprightly feminist high school sitcom with an emotional sting in its tail.



Rebel yell: Hadley Robinson


Moxie is a noun meaning “courage” or “impudence” – derived from a once-popular carbonated soda. Flavoured with gentian root extract, Moxie was claimed to have medicinal properties and effective at battling nerves and insomnia (for what it’s worth, the soda was bought up by Coca-Cola in 2018). The students of Rockport, Oregon, brought up in an age when inclusivity is fast becoming the norm, are not quite there yet. Being Oregon – like Indiana, as featured in The Prom – the guys still seem to have the upper hand. The school jock is tall, handsome and articulate, is captain of the football team (of course) and is played by Patrick Schwarzenegger. He can also argue the case for a book written by a rich white guy about a rich white guy, namely The Great Gatsby. He meets his match with the new girl, Lucy Hernandez (Alycia Pascual-Peña), who feels that their English class should embrace the true bricks and mortar of the American dream – literature dealing with immigration, the working class, black mothers or “at least someone who doesn’t have a mansion.” Lucy has moxie.


However, this feminist spin on the high school yarn is directed by a middle-aged Caucasian and the protagonist is a blue-eyed, porcelain-skinned beauty with a passing resemblance to a teenage Gwyneth Paltrow. Moxie, which is about as formulaic as these things come, is less concerned about the colour bar as it is with women’s rights. Adapted from the 2015 novel of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu, it is bright and perky, often laugh-out-loud funny, and punches above its weight. The dramatis personae are also a colourful lot, both in character and culture, and the performances are spot-on. It helps that the director is Amy Poehler, a Golden Globe-winning actress in her own right, who knows a thing or two about the importance of performance driving the drama. Her leading lady is Hadley Robinson who, in spite of being twenty-seven, is remarkably good at conveying the emotional spectrum of a 16-year-old at war with her school, her mom Lisa (a very funny Amy Poehler), her hormones and the systemic sexism that confines her.


The film opens brilliantly. As with so many horror movies, a girl is seen running through a wood, chased by an unseen entity. But when the girl screams, she cannot find her voice. She is totally inaudible. Like so much of Moxie, clichés are turned inside out, stereotypes transposed. The girl is Vivian Carter (Robinson) and when she awakes from her nightmare, the film shifts tone dramatically. To the sound of Yuno’s upbeat ‘No Going Back’, Moxie segues into high school sitcom mode. Asked to write about a cause she feels passionate about on her application for uni, she raids her mother’s box of memorabilia to find something relevant – and is duly inspired. In her mother’s day, women were incinerating their bras, calling for revolution and “smashing the patriarchy and burning it all down.” But now Lisa is happy to sit in front of the TV consuming industrial amounts of ice cream. Yet, unbeknownst to her, her bygone rebellion has lit a spark in her daughter’s soul. On a whim, Vivian writes a feminist pamphlet – called ‘Moxie’ – and plots to start a movement to shake up the patriarchal status quo of her school. Skilfully contrived by the scenarists Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, Moxie hits its dramatic and comedic stride with aplomb. And, aided by a rocking soundtrack (Yuno, Bikini Kill, Moving Castles, Princess Nokia, Headband) and a vivid cast of newcomers (Lauren Tsai, Nico Hiraga, Alycia Pascual-Peña, each and every one a future star), it is largely an impudent and courageous triumph.




Cast: Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Nico Hiraga, Sydney Park, Josephine Langford, Clark Gregg, Josie Totah, Alycia Pascual-Peña, Anjelika Washington, Charlie Hall, Sabrina Haskett, Ike Barinholtz, Amy Poehler, Marcia Gay Harden, Joshua Walker, Ron Perkins, Greg Poehler, Kevin Dorff, Carla Valentine.


Dir Amy Poehler, Pro Amy Poehler, Morgan Sackett and Kim Lessing, Screenplay Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, from the novel by Jennifer Mathieu, Ph Tom Magill, Pro Des Erin Magill, Ed Julie Monroe, Music Mac McCaughan, Costumes Kirston Leigh Mann, Sound Wylie Stateman.


Paper Kite Productions-Netflix.

110 mins. USA. 2021. Rel: 3 March 2021. Available on Netflix. Cert. 12.