Rebelling for a Cause

Still from Moxie.

Amy Poehler is an American actress and director of Moxie, a new film on Netflix, the streaming behemoth making mad money during the COVID-19 pandemic. The story line, in which Poehler plays the mother of a shy 16-year-old Vivian, (Hadley Robinson), works on different levels.

Spoiler alert: teen angst also shapes the film. It is set at a high school in the USA.

In the beginning, Vivian is an introvert. She prefers to get along by going along. We know folks like that, right?

Early in the film, a male classmate, Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger), disagrees with Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña), a new student at the high school, when a condescending male teacher asks her for feedback on reading an assigned novel, The Great Gatsby. Lucy takes issue with the book’s class and gender limits. I did, as well.

Is the American literary canon at stake? Lucy’s critique raises the ire of Mitchell, quarterback of the school football team and more than that as we discover at the end of the film.

Soon after, Mitchell, a true legend in his own mind, tries to intimidate Lucy. When he goes low, she goes high. Vivian views some of this thuggish behavior.

Principal (Marcia Gay Harden) provides no help to Lucy after experiencing Mitchell’s rudeness. In brief, the female school administrator is tone deaf.

Meanwhile, Vivian’s closest friend, Clauda (Lauren Tsai), wants the two of them to lay low and continue their science studies at the University of California at Berkeley. What could go wrong?

Plenty, we find out. Clauda and Vivian, apparently best friends forever, experience stress to their relationship that begins at school and grows to reach inside their homes.

The girls clash with their mothers. Tensions rise.

In the meantime, Vivian discovers her mother’s social activism a generation ago. In short, she rebelled against patriarchy, a longstanding feature of male-dominated social structures.

That rebellion, in part cultural, e.g., dress and music, resonates with Vivian. Back in her younger days before entering adulthood and earning wages to pay bills became a daily reality, Poehler’s character produced a zine titled Moxie. Alternative journalism, an American tradition, lives!

Surreptitiously, Vivian begins to emulate her mother’s dissident ways, criticizing and describing second-class treatment of female students at high school. To this end, she distributes Moxie in secret.

Vivian leaves publication copies in the girls’ restrooms, for instance. Students read and respond to Moxie, favorably.

It strikes a chord, highlighting male mistreatment of females. What the high school readers, mainly female students, and Seth (Nico Hiraga) a male classmate and love interest of Vivian’s, discover is that they share common experiences of opposing racism and sexism. There is plenty of both at their high school, no shock given the structure of US society.

Moxie, the film adaptation of Jennifer Mathieu’s novel, delivers a slice of female empowerment with humor and levity. The unfolding of a collective effort to address individual injustices wraps up neatly, too much so, I think.

You be the judge, though. I think, however, that you might enjoy watching Moxie.


Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email