<i>We Are the Best!</i>
(Credit: Photo courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

The punk era was said to be over.

After the grinding radicalism of the ‘70s and early ‘80s, the spark that lit the burning desire in youths’ hearts to rebel against all societal norms seemed to have dwindled down to a meek acceptance of conformity.

Yes, the punk era was said to be over—but there are three Swedish teenage girls who’d like to argue otherwise.

While everyone at school seems to have adopted the typical overly-feathered-hair-tight-turtleneck look of the ‘80s, Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) rock a boyish cut and a mohawk, wearing loose-fitting sweaters with combat boots to echo their craving for an age of music they refuse to believe is dead.

As 13-year-old girls living in the widely uniform society of Stockholm, Bobo and Klara’s small rebellious attempts seem to come a bit too late. Surely, their efforts to resurrect the punk ideals will be trivial.

Swedish director Lukas Moodysson proves the contrary, however, with his latest film We Are the Best!

When “The Man” (aka their P.E. teacher) puts down the inseparable twosome, Bobo and Klara are inspired to form a band in order to express their anger towards the institution of physical education. Following in the footsteps of their punk heroes, like iconic Swedish band KSMB, they write what is sure to be their first big hit, “Hate the Sport.”

There’s only one problem: neither of the wannabe punks know how to play a single instrument. Fortunately for them, they discover Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a classically trained and wickedly awesome guitar player at their school’s talent show.

Despite the fact that Hedvig represents everything anti-punk, like being a born-again Christian, they decide to let her into their group with the hopes that she will teach them how to actually play music so they can compete within the predominately male-populated music scene. 

Since his last and self-proclaimed disappointing directing experience on Mammoth (2009), during which his father died, Moodysson has focused on writing novels and poetry that reflect a sense of melancholy that he finds inseparable to his work. Feeling disheartened by the filmmaking experience, he was not even sure if returning to directing was in the cards.

That was until his wife, Coco, wrote the graphic novel Never Goodnight, which details her experience as a young Swede during the post-punk era. Seeing potential in the playful yet melancholic tone in her writing, Moodysson saw his opportunity to return to his roots.

And good thing he did, because through his trio of rebellious girls—the boyish and timid Bobo, the outspoken and god-hating Klara, and the pious and depressingly talented Hedvig—Moodysson creates one of the most refreshingly pleasurable and heartfelt stories about the reliance of friendship, the absurdity of authority figures and the anxiety of youth.

Moodysson strikes the tricky chords of preteendom, where boys, parents and the world at large all seem overwhelmingly bizarre, as well as bizarrely overwhelming.

But the real charm lies within the three leading ladies’ gumption. Their undeniable chemistry and quick wit ride seamlessly along with Moodysson’s clever script. Barkhammar and Grosin embody the complicated oceans of best friendship, where even though the tiniest of bumps can throw a wrench in things (e.g. boys), nothing can truly conquer it.

And the talent doesn’t stop there. Trickling all the way down to the smallest of roles, every character, no matter how brief their appearance, has vibrant individuality. The parents, the teachers, the enemy boy band whom with they ferociously compete against—all remain memorable alongside the unforgettable leads.

While this can be attributed to the actors’ chops, it is probably more accurate to award credit to Moodysson’s writing, which never leaves the precocious nature of a teenage girl’s outlook on the world around her. He embraces the colorful aspects of youth and the notion of never-ending possibility. And he places such color against Stockholm’s stark winter landscape, which allows us to feast on a textured, yet wholeheartedly unpretentious story.

Whether you were the girl who always caught the boys’ attention, the bashful wallflower or the girl who fell somewhere far in between, We Are the Best! will trigger that awkward sense of pre-pubescence that we have all longed to forget.

Yet, it will make you wish you could go back for just one day, because you realize that, yes—these girls really are the best. And maybe we were too.

Grade: A

We are the Best! opens at the Nuart Theatre in Los Angeles, the Angelika Film Center (6) in New York and the Elinor Bunin Munroe Film Center in New York  on Friday, May 30, 2014.

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