You’d have to be a curmudgeon not to like “We Are the Best!” or, at the very least, a statistical outlier. The charming little film about three girls who try to form a punk band in 1982 Stockholm has so far earned almost universal praise, most of which it deserves.
Just don’t expect “School of Rock.”
Lukas Moodysson’s joyous, raucous celebration of adolescent female friendship is unlike any other movie you’ve seen about novice musicians who overcome a lack of talent to win the local “Battle of the Bands” contest. That’s mainly because “We Are the Best!” isn’t really about music, even though it sings a familiar tune: Take a couple of lame back-up musicians, add one talented ringer, stir in pluck, heart and power chords, and crank out the awesomeness.
The problem? The awesomeness is all in their own heads — and stays there.
Protagonists Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and Klara (Mira Grosin) are seventh-grade misfits with only each other for friends. When, on a lark, they begin banging away on borrowed instruments in a community center studio, with Bobo on drums and Klara on bass guitar, it isn’t pretty. Their one song, which mocks more athletic classmates, consists mainly of the refrain “Hate the sport” chanted over and over.
To Bobo and Klara, music is a weapon to attack the establishment: exercise, religion, capitalism. But they’re just 13. Their rebellion is as much a fashion statement as it is a political stance.
Enter Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), a born-again goody-two-shoes who, because of her interest in classical music, is just as much of an outsider as Bobo and Klara. Hedvig plays acoustic guitar like a nerd, but she can also rock out, as it happens. When she picks up an electric guitar for the first time and fires off an impromptu, unaccompanied version of “Sex Noll Tva” — a 1981 song by the Swedish group KSMB — the hair on the back of your neck should stand on end. If it doesn’t, you might want to see a neurologist.
Bobo and Klara quickly recruit Hedvig. (“We’ll influence her away from God,” crows Bobo to Klara.) Despite Hedvig’s skills, however, nothing can improve this sorry trio. They’re still unrelentingly and refreshingly awful, even by the end of the movie.
“We Are the Best!” is about an enduring power other than music. The dynamic connecting these three young oddballs is so unexpected, yet utterly believable, that it hardly matters what their hobby of the moment is or how they ply it. Barkhammar and Grosin, who look at first like boys, with their close-cropped hair and the baggy, androgynous outfits of street urchins, propel the film forward with the pell-mell abandon of youth. The girlier LeMoyne, whose character is a year older and wiser, reins in their puppyish energy.
It’s a bond that shouldn’t work. And a band that definitely doesn’t. But the movie — strangely, sweetly — does.
★ ★ ★ ½
Unrated. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains obscenity, underage drinking and smoking. In Swedish with subtitles. 102 minutes.