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Punk Isn’t Dead

Sweden’s We Are the Best! magically captures the ups and downs of teenagedom

Fifteen years ago, Lukas Moodysson’s feature debut, Show Me Love (limply retitled from the evocative Fucking Åmål), gave us a beautifully honest, complicated and lovely tale about small-town teenage life and love. Moodysson’s latest, We Are the Best!, is another gloriously told tale about Swedish teens — though they can barely claim the word. 

It’s 1982, and Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are barely 13. They’re old enough to be horrified by their parents but too young to shut them out completely: Bobo’s sympathy for her single mom is as clear as Klara’s affectionate frustration with her dorky, playful dad, who she is forever pushing out of her little bedroom.

Our heroines, sporting plaid shirts, striped tights and Sharpied-up T-shirts to serve as DIY band shirts, have fallen for punk, and they don’t accept the verdict of older, would-be cool kids. Punk isn’t dead. Punk is listening to its headphones in a Stockholm apartment, waiting for inspiration to strike.

Inspiration soars in with defiance: When the dudes in a teen metal band mock Klara and Bobo, they retaliate by forming their own band, claiming valuable time in a community practice space. They lure in Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a shy classical guitarist whose competent, cautious personality is just the right addition to their pairing. Like so many best friends, Klara and Bobo have fallen into roles that suit charismatic, feisty Klara just fine, but cause quietly sharp Bobo to chafe against her friend’s mostly benevolent rule.

We Are the Best! feels as natural and spontaneous as Klara and Bobo’s band, but every piece is carefully layered. Swedish punk fuels the soundtrack; every room looks worn and lived-in; the actresses are sullen and giddy in perfect turns. Moodysson’s great magic lies in capturing the uneven rhythms of teenage affections and passions (here he shares credit with his wife, on whose comic Never Goodnight the movie is based). The girls clash, then come together again in service of their band, which stops being a joke when they realize — after meeting punk rock boys who aren’t as fantastic as they seem in magazines, and enduring well-intentioned men who give them help they don’t need — that it’s something worth fighting for. In the end it’s just three girls on a stage, together, and they really are the best.