It only takes one person to start a movement. Amy Poehler’s Moxie is not inventing the feminist movement, but the affable Netflix film is about that one person who hears the call, finds her voice, and joins a growing chorus.
Introverted Vivian (Hadley Robinson) is a high school junior struggling to find her purpose when habitual jerk jock Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger) starts harassing new student Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena). Inspired by her riot grrl mother (Poehler), Vivian starts an anonymous zine called Moxie, rallying her fellow students to stand up to the daily injustices and indignities of being a woman in the world.
Based on the novel by Jennifer Mathieu and adapted for screen by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, Moxie is not a revolutionary film, but illustrates the desperate importance of those everyday revolutions and formative epiphanies. It’s not about the history of the fight, but the future. It’s an origin story, following the girl on no one’s radar as she becomes, unknowingly, the name on everyone’s lips.
It takes a little while to click with Vivian as a protagonist, but that tracks with her shy exterior. The audience can’t know her until she knows herself, and that’s what Moxie‘s all about. Robinson communicates volumes of adolescent uncertainty with furtive glances and innocent questions, adding to her range of expressions as Vivian grows passionate about the cause and friends she makes through it. That secondary cast — Alycia Pascual-Pena, Sydney Park, Josie Totah, and Anjelika Washington — buoy the film’s quieter moments; infuse it with the unconditional warmth of female friendships that say “Your success is my success.”
It’s not about the history of the fight, but the future.
“Moxie” does strain Vivian’s relationship with lifelong BFF Claudia (Lauren Tsai), not because Claudia doesn’t support feminism, but because Claudia’s strict mother doesn’t take kindly to rebellion. While the overbearing Asian parent is something of a trope, it’s also reality for many Asian Americans. Eon Song deserved more than one scene as Claudia’s mother (speaking only Mandarin, with no translation), but it’s provides an opportunity for Claudia to rebel in her own way, simultaneously pleasing her friend and respecting her mother.
But the Claudia storyline gets cut short. This in a microcosm points to something that feels off throughout Moxie. Despite the film’s ample charm and some truly heartwarming moments, its world is incomplete. We don’t dive deeper into Claudia and Vivian’s friendship beyond learning that they’ve just been close forever (to the point that Claudia considers this friendship her defining attribute). Vivian’s mother mentions a stressful job but we never learn what it is or how it introduced her to a flirty new friend (Clark Gregg). Fun side characters and gimmicks like a bumbling football mascot are so spread out that they feel tentative, less effective than if they were absent altogether or the filmmakers had committed harder to the bit.
These shortcomings hardly hurt the film. The “Moxie” girls are both sweet and unapologetic; while it’s frustrating to see them face old biases and outdated systems, these obstacles have persisted for as long as the fight for gender equality, and these girls are readier than ever to rise up. It is a genuine joy to watch them smash the patriarchy.
Moxie is now streaming on Netflix.