The relentlessly upbeat Swedish comedy “We Are the Best!” has several positive messages, not least of which is its gentle reminder that despite cultural and chronological differences, 13-year-old girls in Sweden in 1982 were approximately the same as 13-year-old girls in other lands at other times — and they all share some similarities with the rest of us. Like many of our most beloved stories, this one presents unfamiliar characters and situations, then shows how we can relate to them. Comforting, no?
Written and directed by Lukas Moodysson (who’s dealt with disaffected youth since his first feature, “Show Me Love”) and based on his wife Coco Moodysson’s graphic novel, “We Are the Best!” is about Stockholm seventh-graders Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin). Bobo is a quiet, boyish girl with short hair and round eyeglasses, the daughter of happily divorced parents; Klara has gelled her hair into something resembling a mohawk and has a more traditional family, complete with annoying older brother and a dad who makes dad jokes. The girls love punk rock (despite being told that “punk is dead”) and are content to live in their own bubble outside their school’s mainstream.
One day at a community youth center, annoyed by the loud rock band practicing in the music room, the inseparable Bobo and Klara counteract by starting their own band. There’s no good reason for it — neither of them can play an instrument (“Drums have no cords, right?”) — other than pure 13-year-old obnoxiousness and a desire to irritate the rock boys. Using the instruments in the practice room, Bobo bangs manically on the drums, Klara furiously strums the electric bass, and they shout improvised punk-sounding lyrics about their hatred of professional sports: “Your team is winning / Oil companies are sinning / Children in Africa are dying / But you’re all about balls flying.” It’s perfectly adorable.
The girls soon recruit a third member for their “band,” Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a straitlaced, long-haired Christian who can actually play the guitar. They reach out to a semi-famous Stockholm punk band made up of boys their age, not for musical help, really, but because the boys are cute. Bobo and Klara, already BFFs, spend more time together than ever, gradually incorporating Hedvig (who’s never had such irreverent playmates before) into their lives, giggling and talking and horsing around with infectious adolescent enthusiasm.
The film is cheerfully devoid of serious conflict, and the story isn’t centered around a particular goal to reach or obstacle to overcome. There is a public performance for the girls’ ad-hoc band, eventually, but it hardly matters. Instead, there are small, manageable crises, the sort of day-to-day problems that ring true for anyone who has been young and/or had a friend. Bobo feels overlooked when boys find Klara prettier than her. Bobo and Klara talk Hedvig into cutting her hair, which puts them in hot water with the girl’s conservative, cautious mother (Ann-Sofie Rase). There are little fibs about who’s spending the night at whose house, how thoroughly they’ve done their homework, and such. Klara’s doofus father, hearing the girls practice, rushes in with his clarinet to “help” them. (Daaaad!)
What Moodysson captures especially well is the peripatetic energy of youth, the way the girls fly at top speed from one Big Idea to the next with reckless abandon. Sometimes their musical efforts are nothing but exuberant nonsense; sometimes they pause to consider the actual logistics of what they’re doing and whether it’s practical. They’re at the age where childish daydreaming is starting to conflict with grown-up reality, and these two gung-ho young actresses are sweetly convincing as best friends navigating the treacherous waters together. Girl, boy, Swedish, or other: whatever you are, “We Are the Best!” is liable to put a smile on your face.
B+ (1 hr., 42 min.; Swedish, subtitled; )