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TV/Film Culture cheat sheet: “Moxie,” St. Vincent, and more

Mar. 11, 2021
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Watch: Moxie (dir. Amy Poehler)

Vivian (Hadley Robinson), a 16-year-old secretly running a feminist zine in her high school, asks her mom what she wishes she could change in her similarly feminist past. “We weren’t intersectional enough,” her mom (Amy Poehler) replies, while starring in and directing a movie that suffers from the same fate.

Based on a 2015 YA novel by Jennifer Mathieu, Moxie follows the timid Vivian as she reckons with the normalized sexism in her school after the arrival of new student Lucy (a brilliant Alycia Pascual-Peña). When Vivian discovers her mom’s old crate full of feminist zines, old buttons, and Bikini Kill cassettes, it’s only a matter of time before she runs dramatically in the rain to make 50 copies of a handmade zine of her own.

Moxie has the strongest ensemble cast in recent teen movie memory: Pascual-Peña is headstrong and magnetic, Sydney Park as the unnoticed soccer captain is charming and honest, and Nico Hiraga—I’m free on Thursday if you would like to take me out on Thursday when I am free. It’s such a shame, then, that the film puts Vivian, undoubtedly its least rich character, at its center, consequently underdeveloping the more interesting students of Rockport High. It is because of this that the cast—and the rest of the movie—feels like a social issue checkbox, where a character is [spins wheel] on a wheelchair or [spins wheel] probably a lesbian, at least based on a three-second scene. It is no surprise that the diversity the film prides itself on is merely optics: both its source material and screenplay were written by white women. 

It is also unsurprising that the feminism coursing through the movie is very topical, and the dialogue is hit-or-miss. Confrontations on Vivian’s white privilege coexist with lines like, “You know what I just realized? The king is worth more than the queen. Why? The queen is the best,” delivered by a female student shuffling cards. Perhaps the topical nature makes the film digestible and likable to a lot of younger girls, especially ones only starting to learn about feminism—but I feel the film owes these viewers more than this Instagram-esque, Refinery29 brand of feminism that is more aesthetics than politics.

Moxie is streaming on Netflix.

Watch: Judas and the Black Messiah (dir. Shaka King)

Fresh off of this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Judas and the Black Messiah is a biographical account of the betrayal of Fred Hampton (Golden Globe winner Daniel Kaluuya), chairman of the Illinois chapter of the Black Panther Party in the late 1960s, at the hands of William O’Neal (Lakeith Stanfield), a car-thief-turned-FBI-informant. 

This is only director Shaka King’s second feature, yet a well-realized approach to cinematic language is already so apparent. Each cut and musical note is purposeful, and the visuals never lose their grip or texture despite the 125-minute runtime. The film’s authenticity and vulnerability never feel manufactured or manipulative, thanks not just to an emotionally generous cast but also a director that never overindulges on Black pain. The themes of police violence and coercion are made more resonant by a present that still reflects the reality of many decades prior.

Kaluuya, as always, is a powerhouse, often commanding the room and demanding viewers’ attention. But the center of the story is Stanfield’s reluctant undercover pseudo-agent, reeking of desperation, overcompensation, and internal conflict. Whereas even Kaluuya’s head tilt is already expressive, Stanfield is stuck playing a "morally opaque" version of O’Neal; the character’s onscreen emotional intensity is achieved mostly by his performance. 

That said, it is a shock to read from the film’s epilogue that Hampton was only 21 when he was shot; and O’Neal only 20 at the time. Kaluuya and Stanfield are 31 and 29, respectively. In a way this choice distills the bleakness of what actually happened—young people were at the frontlines of the civil rights movement; it was kids who were being exploited by the federal government to take down an organization going against the interests of the dominating class.

Judas and the Black Messiah is streaming on HBO Max.

Listen: “Pay Your Way In Pain” by St. Vincent

St. Vincent, real name Annie Clark, is sitting at a piano as the lights turn red to blue to green. The song begins, a cacophony of sounds immediately ready to hit climax. She then stands at the center of the screen, kaleidoscopic flares in her periphery. “She made such weird sounds,” Sufjan Stevens says in a profile of the artist in 2017. “It was like the Loch Ness monster giving birth inside a silo.”

Her first single off her upcoming seventh album Daddy’s Home, “Pay Your Way In Pain” has the visceral, groovy lyricism that spotlights her voice’s range and emotionality. It’s rockstar glam, but part of it is what Clark describes as “blues for 2021.” “It’s about how there’s nothing that I’ve done in my life that didn’t involve some sort of struggle,” she tells NME. Daddy’s Home, as a whole, reportedly grapples with her father’s arrest in 2010—gripping stuff until you find out it’s because of a $43 million stock manipulation scheme. Suddenly the grit so captivating in the first single loses much of its shine.

Watch the music video for “Pay Your Way In Pain” by St. Vincent here.