Swedish filmmaker Lukas Moodysson has built much of his career on the tension between belligerence and sweetness. His 1998 debut feature, released in the U.S. as Show Me Love, is a gentle teen-romance, but the film’s original title, Fucking Åmål (Åmål being the name of the town where it unfolds), sets a more confrontational tone. Four years later, Together worked similar territory, and even when Moodysson’s subsequent work became darker and aggressively experimental (Lilya 4-Ever, A Hole In My Heart, Container), a kernel of innocence always remained. We Are The Best! swings the pendulum back the other way, hard, telling the story of three teenage girls in 1982 Stockholm who form a punk-rock band. The film’s surface is as spiky as its protagonists’ hair and wardrobe, but the overall effect can only be described as downright endearing.
Initially, there are just two girls: best friends Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin). With their short haircuts (Klara sports a mohawk) and in-your-face attitude, Bobo and Klara could easily be mistaken for boys, which seems very much by design; neither has any stereotypically “girly” interests, and they spend most of their time complaining about the repressive nature of modern-day society, with all the charming naïveté of early adolescence. Both agree that punk is already dead, before it even had a chance to trickle down to their backwater, but they form a band anyway, not having a better idea of how to vent their frustration. Since neither one has any particular musical ability, however, they decide to draft Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a quiet, long-haired beauty who resembles everything against which they’re rebelling, but who does know how to play the guitar. Those silky blonde tresses will definitely have to go, though.
Adapted from a graphic novel by Moodysson’s wife, Coco, We Are The Best! doesn’t have much more of a narrative than that, building with low-key indifference to the band’s first gig in a neighboring town. There’s a rivalry with another band (all older males) that uses the same rehearsal space, and some drama involving Hedvig’s deeply religious mother, but the Moodyssons are primarily interested in providing a vivid snapshot of a particular time and place, lavishing all of their attention on what it meant to be a non-traditional teenage girl in Sweden circa the early ’80s. Consequently, the film is a triumph of casting and production design, with all three of the leads (especially Grosin, as the loudest and most pugnacious of the trio) creating sharply defined characters whose actions seem determined by their antiseptic environment, which they clumsily opt to reject. Viewing their exploits with affectionate good humor, Lukas Moodysson confirms here that sweet laced with sour works better for him as a recipe than vice versa.