We Are The Best! (Vi är bäst!)

Sweden (2013) Dir. Lukas Moodysson

It’s tough growing up, trying to understand the world and realising, even at an early age, that you don’t fit in with everyone else. So what do you do about it? You form a punk band that’s what!

This is the rough premise of the latest film from Swedish writer and director Lukas Moodysson whose tales of youth alienation and the harsh realities of life are found in such diverse films as the satirical Together and the bleak Lilya 4 Ever. We Are The Best leans more towards the former, based on the graphic novel by Moodysson’s wife Coco which is a fictional retelling of her own teenage years as a wannabe punk rocker.

It’s 1982 and while they may not look like it with their short spiky haircuts and refusal to dress and act as usually expected of their gender, our protagonists are two young schoolgirls Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin). Outcast by practically everyone at school they find themselves clashing with an aspiring rock band whose rehearsal interrupts their activities. To get revenge the girls claim they are a band too and take over the rehearsal room despite not being able to play of having any instruments of their own.

A public belittling by their gym teacher inspires the girls to compose an angry rebuttal in song form and decide to form a band for real. Recruiting shy, Christian classic guitar player Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne) to help with the music front this rebellious trio begin their journey towards punk rock infamy while facing many of personal trials and tribulations and learning some valuable life lessons along the way.

The coming-of-age genre is one that seems to have a vast potential for original stories and explorations by writers and filmmakers but this potential is often wasted in favour of familiar conventions for the sake of an easy ride. Thanks heavens that European filmmakers refuse to bow to such insipid pressures and are around to turn the genre on its head with such heartfelt and genuine films like this one.

While our feisty teen tearaways are a precocious trio they are not your usual cookie cutter heroines whose verve, tenacity and industrious attitudes endear them to the audience. They are most definitely anti-heroines who are headstrong but prone to making naïve mistakes through their stubbornness but learn from them without the sentimental epiphany that usually accompanies these life changing dramas. The biggest difference is how relatable they are and how much of our own petulance at that age we can see in their behaviour.

Sporting a haphazard mohawk Klara is the rebellious heart of the trio, arguing with everyone over everything and always wanting the last word. The Yin to her Yang is the bespectacled and more serious Bobo, from whom Klara and the band is an escape from the lonely home life created by her single mother (Anna Rydgren) and her revolving door of boyfriends.

Hedvig is in another universe to the other two except for being a loner, with Christianity and classical music being her life. That doesn’t last long and soon she begins to enjoy herself until an impromptu make over at the cost of her long flowing blonde locks becomes the first obstacle in their plan for world domination.

Rather than make this a triumphant rags to riches tale this is simply about the incidents in their lives that fuels their ambitions and their dissatisfaction with the world. For instance, unlike other music based films, the girls musical abilities don’t magically appear over night; even by the time they get to play a gig they can’t play in time with each other, the rhythm and tempo of Bobo’s drumming fluctuating at will. Klara is hardly a singer even by punk standards but their sheer determination and drive makes them such a credible and entertaining force to behold.

The 1982 setting is irrelevant as the issues raised here are still very much pertinent today but it works in creating a nostalgic sense for those of us of a certain vintage. There are laughs, there are sour times and a touch of drama but nothing too heavy to spoil the mood which is fairly easy going and energetic, carried by the effervescence of the chemistry between the three young leads.

All newcomers to the acting game, Barkhammar, Grosin and LeMoyne give themselves over to Moodysson wholesale and as much as he moulds them into the characters on a physical front they do the rest with their naturalistic performances and full commitment to their roles.

It is only the rarest of moments that we suspect they are acting, the rest of the time leads us to believe we are watching a documentary. The Cinéma vérité style and juddery handheld camerawork is as much a contributing factor which adds to the charm of the film.

If it wasn’t for the strong language this would make for a great family film to show the young ones of today what it was a like thirty odd years ago and how their struggles aren’t all that different to ours. Their plight addresses contentious issues such as gender roles, social expectations, peer pressures, broken families and general teenage disenfranchisement.

The Swedish setting probably makes the last more of a relevant concern since kids the same age as Klara and co. would be too comfortable to even be so socially aware let alone have such concerns.

That aside, We Are The Best is very much a punk film in feel, attitude and delivery but is an uplifting, charming and resonant work that is both nostalgic and relevant. It may not sound like your average “feel good movie” but its hard not watch this without a smile on your face.