We Are the Best!, which screened at the Duke of York’s after a lengthy festival run, including Venice and London, is one of the highlights of this year’s CineCity film festival. Written and directed by the Swede Lukas Moodysson, who brings us a wonderful tale about growing up, friendship and punk music, it will transfix teenage and adult audiences alike.
Bobo and Klara are thirteen years old and best friends in 1983 Stockholm. They are passionate punks and rebels, cutting their own hair short (Klara has a glorious mohawk) and listening to Swedish punk music. One day, they decide to form their own punk band and as Jack Black’s School of Rock character would put it: “Stick it to the man!” Full of enthusiasm, they write a song about their horrible P.E. teacher (chorus: “I hate the sport! I hate the sport! I hate hate hate the sport!”) and start rehearsing at the local youth centre. The problem however is that they don’t know how to play instruments. Therefore, they enlist the help of guitar-playing loner Hedwig, who fortunately also hates sports.
This is not a film about the discovery of the next big punk stars, but rather a character study of these three girls who are entering puberty. There are very few grown-ups and the children take centre stage. A difficult relationship and disconnect with the parents, a crush on an older boy and first experiences with alcohol are some of the typical teenage anxieties Bobo, Klara and Hedwig go through.
The reason that We Are the Best! works is because you enjoy listening to their lively discussions and generally spending time with these girls. Lukas Moodysson clearly has a lot of affection for these characters and this translates to the audience, creating a very mature and balanced portrayal of adolescence. The three young actresses are excellent, by the way. Crucially, the film, while taking a grown-up point of view, is not patronising at all towards the girls, taking them and their anxieties seriously at all times and avoiding cute for cuteness’ sake.
That said, it is much more fun than this review has made it sound so far. The tone is constantly light-hearted and there are numerous humorous (try saying that out loud) moments, particularly when they are discussing boys or God (Hedwig is a Christian, whereas Klara is a convinced atheist). Moreover, the finale is a perfectly timed, heart-warming, low-key conclusion to this very good film.