Riot Grrrl Feminism Is All the Rage in Amy Poehler’s Teen Drama ‘Moxie’
Gen Z takes a cue from Gen X in “Moxie,” the latest YA feature from Netflix. Directed by and co-starring Amy Poehler, the dramedy follows Vivan Carter (Hadley Robinson), a teen who finds inspiration in her mom Lisa’s (Poehler) old riot grrrl zines and starts a revolution at her high school. Based on the novel of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu, “Moxie” taps into what it’s like for young women who did not fit the norm to find their voices.
When Vivian is first introduced at the beginning of her junior year, she seems pretty content to do her own thing and give no one any trouble, save for occasionally annoying her overworked single mom. This all changes when a new girl in her English class, Lucy Hernandez (Alycia Pascual-Peña), shakes things up. Lucy, who is Black and Latinx, challenges their teacher, Mr. Davies (Ike Barinholtz), for including “The Great Gatsby” on their summer reading list and not any works by women or BIPOC writers. Mitchell Wilson (Patrick Schwarzenegger), the school’s star football player and all-around golden boy, picks an argument with Lucy, and his subsequent actions towards her soon escalates to predatory behavior. After the school principal, Ms. Shelly (Marcia Gay Harden, who gives a believable performance as a Boomer who relies on rules and order), blows off her concerns, Vivian advises her to keep her head down. Lucy assures her that she will be holding her head up high, a foreign concept to a young woman who actively avoids rocking the boat.
Around this time, Vivian is struggling with answering an essay question on a college application about what she cares about. When she asks Gen X Lisa what she cared about at 16, she answers, “Smashing the patriarchy and burning it all down.” While the term “riot grrrl” is never mentioned, Bikini Kill, one of the all-female punk bands associated with that underground feminist movement of the nineties, is, and their anthem “Rebel Girl” inspires Vivian. After finding Lisa’s old zines, she decides to make one of her own in response to a degrading list going around her school ranking girls. Just like her punk feminist foremothers, she goes old school, xeroxing print copies of her zine Moxie and distributing it in the girls bathroom.
Although she remains anonymous as the creator of Moxie, Vivian finds herself bonding with the girls inspired by the zine, and this new sisterhood includes Lucy, the person most everyone else assumes is behind it, soccer players Amaya (Anjelika Washington) and Kiera (Sydney Park), who are tired of girls’ athletics getting the shaft, Kaitlynn (Sabrina Haskett), who is body-shamed for her large breasts, and C.J. (Josie Totah), a trans student whom people often fail to call by her new name. To Vivian’s dismay, Claudia (Lauren Tsai), her lifelong bestie, shies away from the revolution, preferring to stay under the radar.
While “Moxie” mainly speaks to teens, women of all ages can relate to what Vivian goes through as she finds her voice. For a time, she lets her righteous anger get the best of her, and she temporarily alienates Lisa, as well as Seth (Nico Hiraga), her super supportive and sweet, almost-too-good-to-be true boyfriend. Fortunately, she is able to rein it in and focus on a good cause, supporting Kiera over Mitchell in a student athlete scholarship competition.
“Moxie” has fun paying homage to riot grrrls, but Lisa addresses the major criticism of the movement, which was that it wasn’t intersectional. The film attempts to be more inclusive by including different perspectives, including that of a first-generation Asian-American (Claudia), as well as those of other non-white and LGBTQ young women. However, this being a only a 111-minute movie, there isn’t much time to explore what it means to be all of these things beyond the surface level. What the film does best is show the power of female solidarity, and the overall message is important for young women of all backgrounds.
“Moxie” begins streaming March 3 on Netflix.