Starting a feminist movement at your high school is one hell of a thing to put on a college application. In “Moxie,” directed by Amy Poehler and based on the novel by Jennifer Mathieu, a determined young woman, Vivan Carter (Hadley Robinson), spearheads a movement to expose and dismantle the patriarchal culture at her high school. No longer accepting the ubiquitous sexism at Rockport High, the girls in “Moxie,” portrayed by a talented group of young women, are a force to be reckoned with.
While Vivian is the protagonist, “Moxie” really kicks off when a new girl, Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña), shows up at Rockport and begins to question the way things are. When a list ranking girls in demeaning categories mostly based on physical appearance is released, no one takes action except for Lucy, who is given an insulting title in the list. This ignites Vivian to create Moxie, an anonymous zine that exposes sexism and highlights the realities the women of Rockport face.
Vivian’s source of inspiration is also her mother, Lisa, played charmingly by Amy Poehler. While Poehler is well-versed in the comedy world and has brought many laughs to fans in the past, it’s quite refreshing to see her in a role not meant to make you roll on the floor. Their mother-daughter relationship is endearing and Lisa’s activist past — coupled with the music of ’90s feminist rock band Bikini Kill — opens Vivan’s eyes to fiery feminism.
Rockport High’s football team captain is Mitchell Wilson (Patrick Schwarzenegger), a boy who dominates conversations, knows no personal boundaries and is overall a menace hidden behind the cloak of a golden boy. While most of the students accept Mitchell’s behavior as irritating, Lucy makes it known that labeling him as simply “annoying” lets him get away with his atrocious behavior. His disagreeable personality, however, often morphs into the caricature of an aggressive high school jock, making his character feel unbelievable and cliché.
“Moxie” not only portrays sexism as a student-to-student issue but underscores the culpability of adults in power who stand by unwaveringly, giving perpetrators such as Mitchell platforms and pathways to success while silencing those who scream for help the loudest. Principal Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden) remains unbothered by the situation at Rockport, brushes off the complaints made by the girls and even challenges Moxie and its contributors. Her reluctance to intervene is what exacerbates the situation, making it so the girls have no one to turn to but each other.
Once the Moxie zine spreads on campus, some of the girls start holding Moxie meetings to share their experiences, feelings and plans for how to retaliate against the school. The Moxie club not only becomes a medium for girls to express themselves and share their grievances, but a supportive, loving community where the girls feel seen, heard and empowered. However, the film’s polarizing nature lies in the way Vivian and the girls handle their situation, especially with Vivian’s impulsion that causes her to lash out at people who actually care about her.
“Moxie” succeeds if seen as a medium to bring to light the realities of some high school students rather than a How To Start Radical Change For Dummies guidebook. Although some may say the spread of the zine and the girls’ uprising itself is unrealistic due to the short time span and the methods they adopt, the worst part about “Moxie” is that the main issue it highlights is rooted in truth.
Rockport High School, with its frustratingly unhelpful principal, could be any school. Mitchell Wilson, who suffers no consequences for his actions, could be any student. The Moxie girls, who have been pushed aside and silenced, could be any group of people putting themselves on the line, pushing for change. Rather than a chance to evaluate the probability of a girl starting a social movement at her school and succeeding, “Moxie” is a chance to listen to the voice of the unheard.