LONDON: There were many things to love about “Parks and Recreation” – but one of the most obvious was that it starred, unusually, an eternally upbeat, yet likeable protagonist. So perhaps it’s no surprise that Amy Poehler, who played the irrepressible Leslie Knope in “Parks & Rec,” and the “cool mom” in cult classic “Mean Girls,” brings a similar positivity to Netflix high-school comedy “Moxie,” which marks her second directorial outing.
Vivian Carter (Hadley Robinson) is a smart, switched-on student who already longs to leave behind her clique-y high school for what she believes will be the more mature world of college. Vivian flies under the radar, keeping her head down and letting the inequality of high school pass her by. After all, why fight a system that can’t be changed, right?
Well, not quite. When new student Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Peña) draws the unwanted attention of stereotypically obnoxious jock Mitchell Wilson (Patrick Schwarzenegger), something shifts for Vivian. Spurred on by her mother’s rebellious past, Vivian starts a zine – Moxie. In the pages of the guerrilla pamphlet, she calls out the toxic, chauvinistic masculinity that permeates the school, and lambasts the authorities (typified by the spineless principal Shelly, who just wants everyone to get along and not generate any paperwork). Before you know it, the Moxie movement has swept across the campus, drawing support — and no shortage of ire.
Poehler is a gifted comic actress — and her cameo as Vivian’s mum gives her a couple of the movie’s funniest moments vv but from the director’s chair, she opts to dial back the laughs somewhat. There are some smile-inducing moments, and the movie deftly flits from teenage angst to meet-cute and back again. What’s more (and to Poehler’s credit), “Moxie” doesn’t linger on the stereotypical beats of a teen rom-com, but nor does it shy away from highlighting the darker, seedier underbelly of the high-school system in the US. It’s a curious mix of feel-good empowerment, cutesy teen film, and stirring call-to-action. Much like it’s lead character, “Moxie” is difficult to define, but easy to like.