We Are The Best! knows exactly what it’s trying to be, and it does it quite well. As a study of adolescence and what makes rebellion so appealing to the youngest of budding adults, the movie knows its stuff, and it comes off as genuinely knowledgeable and heartfelt. Critics almost universally loved this film in its festival circuit and U.S. theatrical runs, which should lend to its credibility all the more. After all, that’s why I chose to review this particular film in the first place. And yet, I feel pretty ambivalent about this one.
Just to clarify, We Are The Best! is a good film. There’s really nothing particularly wrong with it, for the cast is perfectly suited to their roles and the themes are resonant. In 1982 in Stockholm, two thirteen-year-old best friends are really into punk rock. They cut their hair short and don’t pretty themselves up like the other girls; after all, punk is not as dead as everyone says, at least not to them. Fed up with being called ugly and strange for not conforming, the girls start to vent their frustrations by writing and playing their own punk song. They realize that they’re not very musically talented, so they recruit a third member, a quiet Christian girl with no other friends who is good at playing guitar. The oddly-matched threesome grow as friends and try their best to be as adult as possible, though their confused feelings at any given moment may get in their way.
So yeah, the film portrays adolescence pretty accurately, from the mood swings to the misunderstandings between well-meaning friends to the use of creative outlets to cope with their burgeoning adulthood and everyone’s insistence that they’re still children. Yet I’m still pretty nonplussed by what should be a well-received experience. Is it that I feel like this has been done before? Spielberg is perhaps the most notable director to show young teenagers as naturalistically as possible, yet this film doesn’t share his penchant for youthful romanticism.
No, I think the issue is that the film doesn’t really hold itself up on more than its theming. This isn’t really a film about getting a band together or overcoming other peoples’ expectations; it’s a snapshot of a bunch of pseudo-kids learning to say “Fuck you!” to everyone’s expectations of who they should be. And yeah, that’s fine and all, but it feels a bit shallow in its thematic depth. There’s some feminism interwoven with the primary message as well, but it feels like the obligatory subtext inherent in having three female leads rather than a fully fleshed out theme. I guess I felt unsatisfied because I wanted the film to show me something more, something new, something that hasn’t been the subject of just about every coming-of-age story ever, albeit with a punk rock aesthetic this time around.
We Are The Best! seems to me like a film that’s being praised right now upon its release, but nobody’s going to remember it in the years to come. It hits the sentimental soft spots that the film press really seems to gravitate toward, but it doesn’t do much with that sentiment other than tell a fairly standard coming-of-age tale. I still think it’s a well-done film; I’m just disappointed by its lack of ambition.
Is punk dead? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.