‘Moxie’ Believes in the Anger of Teen Girls
Amy Poehler’s coming-of-rage film encourages viewers to turn female anger into concrete action, and to understand their convictions for the first time
I’ve been thinking a lot about the power of teen girls lately.
Last week, the Cut published a piece by Tavi Gevinson, writer, actor, and founder of Rookie, a now-defunct website for teenage girls. She wrote a stunning exploration of the way the recent New York Times documentary framed Britney Spears’s control and power over her image and her career as being there all along, when that was hardly the case. The piece then, very eloquently, became an inquiry into the various ways the media has, over the years, presented harmful messages of shame and empowerment to young girls.
The piece blew me away, but more than that, it got me thinking about how much power teen girls hold, and what they do with that power. The answer is, of course, two-fold: Teen girls have all the power in the world—and I mean it—but they also have none at all. I believe teen girls can do just about anything. I was one once myself, after all. But much of society operates on a level that perpetuates detrimental images of what a girl (or a woman) should or shouldn’t be.
Our teen years, I’ve always believed, are our most formative years. They explain a lot of why we are the way that we are when we’re in our 20s, our 30s, our 40s. The things I loved as a 15-year-old still matter to me today, even as someone who’s about to turn twenty-five. The messages we absorb, the images we take in, and the emotions we experience as teens influence the way we view the world. We can change—and we will—but our core selves depend deeply on those important, impressionable years.
In Moxie, Amy Poehler’s newest directorial effort for Netflix, teen girls take centerstage. And they contain multitudes. They’re messy, self-assured, full of doubt, impulsive, scared, brave. They’re not always likable, but they’re worth-rooting for. Their ideas especially are. Based on the 2017 novel by Jennifer Mathieu, Moxie follows Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a shy, introverted 16-year-old who sparks a feminist revolution at her school, inspired by her mom (Lisa, played by Poehler)’s Riot Grrrl past.
She anonymously starts publishing a zine also called Moxie, with the goal to hold her sexist classmates and conservative school administration accountable for their actions while making sure that other students feel safe and empowered within their community. It ignites most of the student body, and before you know it, Vivian’s found other like-minded individuals who share the same passion for not being treated like dirt. They’re angry, and they want to see change.
After all, so much of being a person navigating this world involves being angered: by injustice, by malfeasance, by bigotry. With the continued rise of social media, more and more people—more and more teens, in fact—are being politicized and radicalized at a young age. My own political awakening didn’t happen until I was well out of college; these days, girls in high school are constantly fighting back against dress codes and other misogynistic double standards they come across.
Moxie isn’t without its foibles; its preachings of intersectionality often feel forced, and much of the film’s optics leave more to be desired (the characters of color are the ones burdened with suffering in order for the white lead’s story to advance). But its earnestness, though clumsy, makes up for it. Because Moxie, if anything, takes its subjects—teenage girls—seriously. It validates their emotions and their passions. The film, by way of Poehler, knows the need for teen girls to recognize and identify what they’re feeling. It’s anger, not irritation or annoyance. It’s anger, not frustration or bitterness. And that’s fine.
“Female anger is still undiscovered territory,” Poehler says in a roundtable for the film. “It’s either made fun of or minimized or pathologized, like you’re just a sociopath in the woods, killing people with swords. It’s a fuel. We often don’t encourage young girls to be angry, to get to express it, to get to feel it even. So sometimes half the battle as a woman in life is to even identify that that’s the feeling.”
But what’s more important is that this anger is transformed into concrete action, and that it’s not energy wasted. Moxie encourages the viewer to do just that. The film is the perfect jumping off point for anyone trying to understand their convictions for the first time; for young girls trying to figure out their place in the world. It doesn’t say anything new, but it’s a worthwhile introduction to the undetected ways misogyny, hatred, and bigotry seep into our daily lives. Most of all, it’s a solid (if uneven) glimpse into what teen girls are capable of if only we’d let them do things.
Moxie arrives on Netflix today, March 3.
Photos from Netflix