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Non-Review Review: We are the Best! (Vi är bäst!)

We are the Best! is an endearing coming of age tale about three unlikely friend who decide – rather spontaneously – to found their own punk rock band. A charming, light-hearted and whimsical story about teenage friendship, We are the Best! occasionally feels a little too unfocused and a little too generic, but it’s elevated by a witty script and three great central performances from young actors Mira Barkhammar, Mira Grosin, and Liv LeMoyne as the central (and unlikely) trio.

Young punks...

Young punks…

Set against the backdrop of eighties Stockholm, We are the Best! is notable for the way that it almost completely avoids teenage melodrama. The movie hits all the necessary plot beats for a coming of age story, including an obligatory third-act conflict and a grand finalé that offers our characters a chance to demonstrate how far they’ve come, but there’s a sense of self-awareness to the film’s storytelling.

These touches are there to provide some semblance of structure to We are the Best!, to create some sense of tension or something for the film to build towards, but they are ultimately unimportant. So these details are grudgingly included and treated as almost inessential. They are introduced and toyed with, but never the sole focus of attention. We are the Best! is much more interested in capturing the mood and character of its leads than it is with ticking off obligatory plot points.

A-music anecdotes...

A-music anecdotes…

The mandatory “school talent show” that provides a necessary focus for a movie like this is glossed over – floated as a target for our three musicians to aim towards, but one casually dismissed with a throw away line of dialogue from a character who never appears again. (Although the movie does provide another gig to close out the story, it’s treated as something of a non-event – more of a logical end-point than a suitable climax.) Similarly, the big and inevitable disagreement between best friends Bobo and Klara is resolved in a rather grounded and low key fashion, almost immediately.

Instead of trying to tell a structured story, We are the Best! serves as a wry meditation on teenage enthusiasm. At its best, the three central characters feel like real people – each developed and defined clearly and efficiently. We are the Best! is a story of a teenage punk rock band, but it’s constructed with a knowing optimism. For all that Klara expresses concern about nuclear power and famine and warfare, We are the Best! shrewdly recognises that punk is more than just anger or resentment – it’s also about self-expression and identification.

Band in Sweden...

Band in Sweden…

There’s a beautiful irony in this – music most associated with youthful rebellion is acknowledged as something that can comforting and safe. We are the Best! never quite buys into the cynicism expressed by Klara, making it quite explicit that she doesn’t quite buy into it either. There’s no hint of sensationalism or moral panic to any of this, no cynicism or skepticism or awkwardness. We are the Best! seems to have been constructed with a genuine enthusiasm for its source material.

The adults that populate We are the Best! are all understanding and open-minded. Klara’s parents are free spirits who want to “jam” with their daughter’s band. Bobo’s mother is disconnected from her daughter, but her separated father doesn’t mind Bobo skipping out to visit Klara during their rare family dinner. Even Hedwig’s Christian mother is accepting of the girls and their taste in music – when she does object, quite reasonably and politely, it is to make a very valid point about Klara’s tendency to be a little domineering and imposing. At the worst, the well-meaning owners of the local youth club refer the trio as “a girl band.”

In a bit of a jam...

In a bit of a jam…

We are the Best! is occasionally a little light for its own good, feeling lacking in substance or weight. But that’s the point. We are the Best! is very much an ode to the innocent enthusiasm of childhood, that rare time of life where you can start up a punk rock band just because you want to.

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