We Are the Best!
It's Stockholm, in the year 1982. Thirteen-year-old Bobo (Mira Barkhammar), like girls of her age everywhere, feels that everything her mother (Anna Rydgren) does is a humiliation to her personally. Her response -- also typical of teens -- is to shut herself away in her room, where she listens to angry, angsty music and talks on the phone with her best friend, the punkish and take-charge Klara (Mira Grossin).
In a spasm of rebellion against the authority of a gym teacher (and the racket of a local metal band rehearsing at the youth center they frequent), the girls decide one day to form their own band -- despite having no musical training at all, nor any instruments. Using the youth center's scant supply of instruments (drums and a bass guitar), they start work on a punk rock song denouncing the meaningless obsessions of adults in charge of the world.
What kicks their band to the next level... to any level, actually, given their inability to play music... is what comes next: A flash of inspiration that has them befriending and recruiting Hedvig (Liv Lemoyne), a girl others shun. Bobo and Klara assume Helvig's outcast status has to do with her overt Christianity; this in itself becomes a selling point for bringing Hedvig into the band. Bobo suggests they "influence her away from God," to which the atheistic Klara enthusiastically responds that it's part of the punk ethos to "stand up for the weak."
But Hedvig, despite her classical guitar training, makes a more natural fit than Bobo or Klara expect, and before long she's leading the band musically, much as Klara leads it in other ways. Bobo sees that she is third banana, but soldiers along all the same -- even when the three meet up with a pair of punk musician boys their own age, famed in the local press, and Bobo is left out in the resulting whirl of teen hormones.
The film has a merry charm that buoys it along from start to finish. American audiences may never have heard of the bands the girls reference, and whose music appears here (Ebba Grön, Incest Brothers), but the songs selected for the soundtrack underscore how the girls are feeling and provide context for their own song as it slowly develops, evolving from artless banging and twanging to something quite recognizably punk.
At the same time, the characters and story progress in tandem. The girls run afoul of the adults in their lives (most notably Hedvig's mother, who, in one deeply creepy scene, tries to blackmail Bobo and Klara into becoming Christians; the girls stand their ground), not mention pissing each other off (creative tensions and bruised egos threaten the nascent band), but their natural curiosity, passion and aptitude for friendship irons out all wrinkles and leads to a wild, defiant performance at the "Santa Rock" event in Våsterås, a neighboring town. If only adults could display the level of flexibility and resilience these three kids do.
Another appealing factor is how natural the performances are, the graceful nature of the writing, and the keen eye to genuine response director Lukas Moodysson displays. Moodysson has the inside advantage here, since the film is an adaptation of his wife's autobiographical comic book "Never Good Night."
Could there be such a thing as a girl-centered Swedish punk rock version of "Stand by Me?" If so, here you have it.