' ' Cinema Romantico: We Are The Best!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

We Are The Best!

Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are inseparable pals in 1982 Stockholm. Hanging out after school one day, a few boys pass by and call them names. Angered, they give chase and find the name-callers setting up for band practice in a music room they have reserved at school. Except they haven’t actually reserved it. The name-callers have forgotten to put their names on the sign-in sheet. So Bobo and Klara, thinking quick, put their names on the sign-up sheet and point this out to a teacher as their name-calling enemies are summarily dismissed from the room and the girls are ushered in. Never mind that Bobo and Klara have no idea how to play instruments. They've gotten one over on the name-calling pigs. This isn't about the clampdown so much as vindictiveness.

The term “punk rock” often goes hand-in-hand with visions of rolling around in the gutter, of nihilistically renouncing everything, of Sid and Nancy. That’s not the punk rock ethos director Lukas Moodysson's “We Are The Best!” seeks to explore, however. Joey Ramone is not its paradigm so much as Adrien Brody in “Summer of Sam” when he spiked out his hair, pulled on the Union Jack t-shirt and affected a British accent. That’s the key word – affected. “We Are The Best!” is about teenagers and teenagers are all about affectations.

The lives of Bobo really aren’t screaming for rebellion. They are not so much persecuted outcasts as they are simply uncool. They have relatively normal families whom they view through their prism of sullen teenager-ness as incapable of understanding how they feel and who they are. If they’d made “We Are The Best!”, say, five years later they would have been laying on the floor listening to The Smiths and pondering buying a used synthesizer. It’s not so much punk rock itself that liberates them as they way in which they use punk rock to take a youthful stand.

Kids can also adapt quickly, and Bobo and Klara adapt pretty quickly to the DIY ethos of their chosen genre. They hate gym class. So they concoct a song about hating gym class. They have no idea how to actually play chords. So they employ Hedvig (Live LeMoyne), a classically trained guitarist classmate, to teach them a first, second and third chord, which is all they need. They form a band. They practice. They goof off. They get in fights. Plot is incidental. Tension is minimal. Stakes, that eternal critic buzzword, are marginal. And so fucking what? Stakes are for posers, man.

This film, conveyed with a frenetic camera that can’t keep still, like a kid hopped up on too many sodas from the school cafeteria vending machine, understands the rhythms of childhood – which is to say, there are no rhythms, only spastic stabs at the electric guitar. Some sounds are good, some sounds are bad, but you’re just trying to find your voice amid the din of all your peers, most of whom you probably don’t even like. There is no rise, no fall, no break-up, no reconciliation. There is no conventional arc because the tyranny of grade school resists arcs.

The exclamation point that brings home the film's title is conspicuous. It was no less an authority than Nick Hornby who advised “avoid those exclamation marks, kids, if you want a long career in music.” “We Are The Best!” isn't about a long-term movement or changing a life because “We Are The Best!” has the intelligence to know people so young can't change their lives because their lives - their real lives - are still waiting to begin. “We Are The Best!” is about three chords and a cloud of dust. *Middle finger.*

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