by Eric Ginsburg
If it were a true story, this would be a documentary chronicling the birth of Riot Grrrl.
The three middle-school-aged bandmates loathe the idea of being called a “girl band.” Despite the musical trio functioning as the mortar of Swedish film We Are the Best!, the trio don’t even name the band. There’s only one thing that best friends Bobo, Klara and Hedvig call themselves: punk.
The 2013 film quickly establishes its protagonists, 7th grade best friends Bobo and Klara, who it follows as they deal with the frustrations of family, school and society. Born out of a reaction to all that revolts them, particularly an obnoxious metal band comprised of sexist bullies at their community center, the duo launches history’s most haphazard punk band.
With no experience with instruments they grab what’s available — a bass, drums and a microphone. Despite their musical ineptitude the throttling fury of any good punk band is there, made clear as Klara belts out repeatedly, “The prettiest girls in town!” in reaction to repeatedly being called “ugly” for their short hair.
Later the pair draws in Hedvig, a classically trained guitarist with a soft spot for the Lord who helps them create a holy punk trinity. She may be the film’s most likeable character.
We Are the Best! is instantly relatable to anyone who even briefly flirted with punk — the defaced image of Reagan and Crass posters on Bobo’s wall, the twisted spiky hair, the angst-filled battles with preppy girls. But the characters are also accessible to anyone who’s ever felt alone, angry with their parents, alienated by their peers and friends, hopelessness, wanderlust or the need to cut their own hair.
In other words, anyone who is now surviving or ever lived through the almost inherently punk experience of being a teenager.
And what could be more endearing than a main character named Bobo and her two badass best friends, who wear oversized flannels and sweaters, hate disco and belt out anthems like “Hate the Sport” about gym class?
We Are the Best! never establishes an exact timeline, but drops several hints that it is set in the 1980s. For the most part it’s easy to forget that the film takes place in the past, though Bobo’s clunky headphones and cassette player immediately evoke nostalgia for the era, as well as the large landline phones the girls talk on nightly.
We Are the Best! is showing at a/perture in Winston-Salem beginning this Friday. Details at aperturecinema.com.
There’s a wonderful chemistry between the protagonists throughout the film as well as several particularly memorable scenes. In one, two men working at the community center paternalistically try to mansplain guitar to the trio until Hedvig shows them up with an incredible guitar riff. In another, Klara’s family tries to join a provisional practice taking place in Klara’s bedroom.
“This is punk! Get out!” Klara yells. What begins as a relatively warm, lighthearted scene then jump-cuts to the band practicing alone and Klara singing, “Abort all the parents!”
We Are the Best! is stacked with plenty of unbeatable lines, like when Klara explains her resentment towards her brother Linus: “He deserted punk. He only listens to Joy Division,” or sums up her attitudes towards Hedvig’s faith: “I don’t believe in God, I believe in ketchup.”
Or maybe best of all, two lines delivered by Bobo: “They weren’t even cute. They looked like mall punks.”
At a winter concert, the unnamed band’s debut is met with a riotously negative response akin to the unveiling of Stravinsky’s “Rites of Spring.” The scene, or the boiling conflict between Klara and Bobo over punk wonder-boy Elis, would serve as the crescendo in an American-made film, but instead We Are the Best! avoids the traditional conflict-climax-resolution format.
The pacing and style is reminiscent of other internationally acclaimed Swedish films such as Together, which makes sense considering Lukas Moodysson (who also wrote Mammoth) directed both. The slow pace contributes mildly to wandering interest, but mostly the impressive acting and a unique, unpredictable storyline holds viewers attention.