The Daily Stream: We Are The Best! Is The Best

(Welcome to The Daily Stream, an ongoing series in which the /Film team shares what they've been watching, why it's worth checking out, and where you can stream it.)

The Movie: "We Are the Best!"

Where You Can Stream It: Kanopy, Magnolia Selects.

The Pitch: Based on autobiographical the comic book "Never Goodnight" by Coco Moodyson, Lukas Moodyson's 2013 film "We Are the Best!" is one of the best films of its year. Sweet, upbeat, and joyous, "Best!" understands the golden time in early adolescence when one first discovers rebellion, and when one first realizes they can indeed hold a middle finger up to malfunctioning adult institutions and gain almost infinite power in doing so. Of course, when one is 12, that rebellion takes a modest, almost sweet form. When you're 12, sometimes all you have to rage against is gym class. 

Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are both 12-years-old, and they are just beginning to understand what punk rock is all about. Their life in Stockholm in 1982 is not the rosiest imaginable. They aren't horribly abused or neglected, but Bobo is largely ignored by her mother, and Klara is mocked by school friends for her angry attitude. The two of them are just beginning to taste what discontent with the world feels like, turning in the direction of embittered nihilism without really knowing what that is. All Bobo and Klara know is that the best way to confront the world is to spike up their hair (egg whites are a handy binding agent), reject traditionally "girly" fashions, and start a punk band. 12-year-old baby punkers just discovering punk? It's the cutest damn thing. 

Vi är bäst!

Peeved at a band of teenage boys who practice at the local equivalent of the YMCA (the boys call themselves Iron Fist), Bobo and Klara take up instruments out of spite. They don't come up with a name for their band, but they know they want to scream about how much fourth-period gym sucks. They write a song called "Hate the Sport," and practice every day. Eventually, however, Bobo and Klara come to realize they, uh, don't know how to play any instruments and will have to enlist a third band member who actually can. The only person they can approach is the gentle 13-year-old Christian girl Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), who is proficient at acoustic guitar. Hedvig is intrigued, but reticent because of punk rock's frequent anti-Christian messages (for some context, a viewer might want to listen to bands of the Swedish kängpunk movement that included bands like Mob 47 and Anti Cimex). Klara makes the case that Jesus was actually kinda punk in his own way kinda, and that's enough to convince Hedvig. The unnamed band is formed. "We Are the Best!" will climax with a talent show a few towns over. It goes about as badly — and as well — as you might expect. 

We punk meant something

Moodysson is a filmmaker with a keen eye on failed institutions and how warm relationships have a tendency to cut through the B.S. In his first feature, "Show Me Love" (1998) a pair of teenage girls struggle through the dullness and closed-mindedness of their small Swedish town to discover that they are in love with each other. In the much bleaker "Lilya 4-Ever" (2002), Moodysson follows a Russian teen who finds small scraps of human connection as she is kidnapped and forced into the world of teen sex trafficking. "We Are the Best!," a far warmer, infinitely hopeful film about the preteen experience still depicts a stifling world undercut by friendship and anger. It is a delight.

"We Are the Best!" also contains a few scenes of rudimentary romance, as both Bobo and Klara seem to have eyes for the same boy. As they are all 12, the most intense romantic experience they can think to have is holding hands alone in a bedroom. If you hold the hand of your best friend's crush, it is the ultimate betrayal. "We Are the Best!" is wise about how kids can indeed get very angry over seemingly slight things, but how important it is to work them out and remain friends. 

They really are

In Moodysson's filmography, "We Are the Best!" immediately followed his 2009 English-language romance "Mammoth" with Michelle Williams and Gael García Bernal. "Mammoth" is a film about couples and families that are separated by the world's demand that people go where they can find work. The central couple must be separated for work reasons. Their nanny is separated from her own family. Even an itinerant sex worker has to leave her child to make a living. The separation is damaging to everyone involved and demanded by an increasingly globalized economy. To Moodysson, it seems the modern world is built on disconnects.

"We Are the Best!" in contrast, is a comforting nostalgia piece. In the early 1980s, when you're only 12 (Not only is the original comic an autobiography by Moodysson's wife Coco, but Moodysson himself was 13 in 1982), one can overpower the world with pranks, music, and defiance. There is a magic to salvaging a box of abandoned yarn, taking it back to your apartment, and stabbing it with kitchen knives. There is a harmless abandon in trying to start fires in public — but only when it's a single matchbook, and it's carefully nestled on a bronze statue. The present may be an unpleasant place with people constantly forced apart, but the past was a time when your anger and playful defiance felt like it was actually changing things. When you're young, spiking your hair and listening to punk. 

"We Are the Best!" ends with the three girls being told they are the worst band in the world. They smile at their accuser and recite the film's title. In that moment, they wholly believe it. And we do too.