Lukas Moodysson’s adaptation of his wife’s graphic novel emerges as something on a higher level of craft than merely detailing three girls starting a punk band; it’s an exuberant recall to adolescence with an incredible amount of wisdom, multiplicity and humour which amounts to an absolute gem of human warmth.
Disco sucks. Joy Division sucks. Parents suck. Not much doesn’t suck in Stockholm circa 1982 for Bobo (Mira Barkhammer) and Klara (Mira Grosin), two thirteen year old girls going through a change in hormones and a change in era when punk looks dead but they’re old enough to have just discovered it. Unlike the all too conventional coming-of-age depictions in film, these aren’t quirky and shy teenagers who don’t fit in but oh so badly want to – it’s two best friends with very different characteristics and upbringings who, while outcasts, are not only comfortable with their ‘identity’ but want to bring others to see the light (and their haircuts). They successfully do this with Christian and classical music fan Hedvig (Liv LaMoyne), almost messing up through Klara’s brazenness in making Hedvig listen to Ebba Grön’s punk song “Hang God” then explaining that it’s actually a Christian song because “God has to be real otherwise you couldn’t hang him”.
For the band, punk is how they dissent from the perceived capitalist society of privilege that regards sport as more valuable than innocent foreigners killed oversees. They have a high level of angst and a defiant need to rebel against anyone who doesn’t want to hear it. The three girls are outsiders but possess such resolute spirits in what they believe in for the fleeting time that they’re likely to believe in it as impulsive teenagers. Who of us can’t relate to Klara’s matter-of-fact confession that she doesn’t “want to wait four years to become good at guitar”, illustrating the amusing youthful need for instant gratification.
Their vehicle of expression in punk music is actually semi-irrelevant because We Are the Best is at its best when highlighting the root of their angst and the disconnected perspective they have of themselves. When Bobo accidentally cuts her hand with a knife and begins panicking hysterically, it exposes a thirteen year old who may have got the world figured out politically and philosophically in her mind but still thinks she’s going to die from a small hand cut. At her core she’s still an emotionally fragile young girl who feels insecure about boys and her appearance like all her peers. When the group excitedly go to meet two punk boys in a neighbouring town, she is left the odd one out in their courting. It’s a superb scene at isolating her sorrow, reminding you of a time when those exact feelings tore your own heart out and you’d feel justified in doing anything to repair it. Astute moments such as these are where the girls truly astonish in their debut performances, capturing all the subtleties and complexity of thought that are especially haywire in puberty.
Disco definitely doesn’t suck, though!