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Female empowerment shines through in Moxie

Comedian Amy Poehler reunites with Netflix for her sophomore directorial effort in Moxie. An adaptation of author Jennifer Mathieu's same-titled young adult novel, Moxie tells the story of Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a seemingly shy 16-year-old, has always preferred to keep her head down and fly under the radar. The arrival of a new student named Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) forces Vivian to examine her fellow students' unruly behavior led by Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger) running rampant at her high school. Vivian realizes she's fed up.

After looking in a memory box, Vivian is inspired by her mother's (Amy Poehler) rebellious past. This leads to Vivian anonymously publishing an underground zine called Moxie to expose bias and wrongdoing in her high school and unexpectedly sparks a movement. Before long, Vivian is at the center of a revolution. She begins to forge new friendships with other young women and allies, reaching across the divide of cliques and clubs. The young women learn to navigate the highs and lows of high school together.

Screenwriters Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer adapt the novel, which moves along to a quick pace, even for viewers who may not be in the movie's Emma demographic, myself included. In the film's first act, Vivian and her female high school counterparts have to put up with a sexist, stereotypical rankings list created by ring leader Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger) and his cronies. The categories on the list include "Most doable," "Best Butt," etc. What sets everything in motion is the categories ranking that the guys give Lucy. The writers treat Lucy category as a "McGuffin," never revealing what it is. Still, given Lucy's reaction, I feel like it was the c-word, which is the vilest thing a human being can call a woman.

When Vivian starts to stick up for herself with anonymity, I loved seeing the young ladies together and form alliances with fellow students they wouldn't regularly talk to. Vivian also finds herself in a budding romance with Seth (Nico Hiraga), who she's known since grade school. The script allows their romance to build, and I commend the writers for the angle they used in why he decided to join. Patrick Schwarzenegger also impressed portraying another spoiled and privileged jock who thinks the world revolves around him. Schwarzenegger continues to build a name for himself away from his famous surname.

I wasn't that familiar with Hadley Robinson's work, but she does well carrying the film a sour lead. Robinson's relationship with her mom portrayed by Poehler was realistic, particularly in a quirky running debate where the two discuss if milk is good for you. Robinson also has excellent chemistry with Alycia Pascual-Peña, whom fans may recognize the recent Saved by the Bell reboot.

Pascual-Peña has a natural beauty and sass to her that plays well on screen. There are also some great moments from Lauren Tsai as Claudia, Vivian's best friend who isn't too keen on her friend's changes. Initially, I thought Claudia's arc was going one way, but the script changes it up and shows us that Claudia has her own problems and issues to deal with.

While this is primarily a film for teenagers, director Amy Poehler does find time to give the adults some substantial screen time. Marcia Gay Hayden brings her characteristic flavor to Principal Marlene Shelly. At the same time, the always enjoyable Ike Barinholtz gets a chance to shine as Mr. Davies. I enjoyed how the script has both characters falling under Mitchell's charms and find it to be true to life. Amy Poehler also has a supporting role as Vivian's mom Lisa, which she portrays a nuanced and supportive.

Moxie has a lot to say in its critical teachings about gender inequality and racial divide in high schools. The film succeeds as, in my opinion, it stays grounded in reality and highlights the effects of unchecked toxic behavior.

Final Grade: B+

Moxie is streaming on Netflix now

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