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5 Screenwriting Takeaways: ‘Moxie’ Embraces Feminism Via the Lens of the Riot Grrrl

March 17, 2021
4 min read time

It’s likely much of Gen Z has never heard of a Riot grrrl. Actor Hadley Robinson was totally unaware of "Bikini Kill" when she was cast as the lead Vivian in Moxie. But Amy Poehler took on the YA novel adaptation to help change that, and hopefully thrust the rebellious spirit of a Riot grrrl into the future.

Embracing a movement for the first time is messy and imperfect. That’s not to say it isn’t worth doing, and hopefully learning from mistakes along the way. Moxie itself is a little messy and imperfect, but it's got a big ticket order: attempting to entertain while educating about a rich past of rebellion and embracing modern day feminism all at once. That’s a tall order for any movie, but in Poehler’s capable hands, it’s worth showing up for the party.

Grab your zine and your leather jacket, here are five screenwriting takeaways from Moxie. 

Thematic Statement As Story Hook.  Moxie does a great job of laying out its thematic statement right at the top. Vivian and her best friend Claudia (Lauren Tsai) have their eye on Berkeley for a liberating collegiate life. But the essay question has Vivian stumped: “What does she care about the most and why?” Vivian isn’t so sure. But when she discovers a trunk full of zines, band pins, and her Mom’s old diary, coupled with meeting a new girl at school who’s ready to stand up to the worst-of-the-worst bully out there — Vivian discovers she cares about revolution, and she’s ready to take matters into her own hands. 

History as Cannon.  This is where Moxie leaves its audience wondering what exactly is a Riot grrrl? While Vivian is redefining that for herself, it’s unclear what action her Mom, Lisa (Amy Poehler), took that made a difference. Lisa’s stand-out story about her glory days is that she didn’t shower for a week as a matter of protest. It’s clear Lisa went to all the right concerts and had all the right t-shirts, but why did this movement matter to her? While, yes, this is a story about Vivian and her own feminist awakening, it would’ve been wonderful to more closely connect her to Lisa and give the audience a bit more history to go on about these revolutionary women that aided Vivian’s discoveries. 


Men Make Great Feminists, Too. 
The film does have a bad guy trope in Patrick Schwarzenegger’s Mitchell, who feels like he stepped right out of an '80s movie — Captain of the football team, perfect hair, chiseled bod, and can slam a soda machine with the best of them. Where the movie succeeds is creating a nuanced, funny, sweet budding feminist in Vivian’s love interest, Seth (played by the endearing Nico Hiraga). From the film’s first act, it’s clear that Seth is crushing hard on Vivian, but his pursuit is low pressure, casual and scene stealing as he discovers Vivian’s secret that she’s created Moxie. Seth offers never ending support, never pushes his own needs on Vivian, and when her feminism takes an aggressive turn, it’s Seth that’s hurt in Vivian’s wake. The role reversal of their relationship throughout is refreshing, complicated and real, and Hiraga has the goods to be a leading man. 

Tying Up Too Much.  Is it satisfying to tie up all plot points with a bow? Sometimes. Is it more satisfying to leave things messy and incomplete? Sometimes more so, because that's life. Moxie's third act lives by the former motto: tie it all up and stuff it all in. Things really go off the rails when the writers try to introduce the new and heavy plot point of rape. Up until the third act, Moxie feels light hearted, good natured, and like a Saturday night popcorn movie. In the wake of #MeToo, it feels hard not to address the prevalence of sexual assault in a movie about feminism. Unfortunately, Moxie wants to have it all, and because it doesn't fully address this issue, it feels like the afterthought of a third act turn. Putting in the announcement and confession of a rape Mitchell committed, the main antagonist of the film, and not setting it up or addressing it further unfortunately takes away from some of the other amazing takeaways of the film overall. Even well-intentioned secrets will come back and bite you in the butt. You cannot dictate what kind of feminism is right, or is wrong, and if you want to start a revolution, you better be ready for the consequences. So maybe that’s the point of the unexpected heavy turn: feminism has no real rule book. Either way, introducing a woman’s intense story in the last 15 minutes of the film leaves me with way more questions than answers. Mainly, what are the consequences for Mitchell, and will this school finally see real change?

What About the Music? The Riot grrrl movement was all about the music. Punk music and the lyrics of "Bikini Kill", "Sleater-Kinney", "Bratmobile", and many more gave women a sense of confidence and female empowerment, and was historical in the mere fact that these bands were run by and comprised of all women. While Moxie and Netflix paid up for a killer soundtrack, sadly the music is never discussed or addressed. It’s not part of Vivian’s life to go to concerts, nor does she play an instrument. While, again, Vivian is on her own journey, original Riot grrrls may be bummed out by a missed opportunity to bring the music into the conversation. At the conclusion of the film, the Riot grrrls throw a party and The Linda Lindas (who the audience meets for the first time) play a "Bikini Kill" cover. The band is captivating and wonderful, and it’s hard not to dream what could’ve been if they were somehow included throughout. 


Final Takeaway: Moxie is a fun romp of a film about a burgeoning feminist with big ideas. Its heart is in the right place, addressing inclusivity and giving the audience a love story that defies gender norms, but overall, it introduces huge issues young women face without fully digging in and doing the work on how to have productive discussions to make active and valid change in the high school setting. Nevertheless, Moxie deserves attention, as does every discussion and piece of art on the evolution of feminism at large.

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