Plenty of direct-to-video movies have been made with exactly the same plot as We Are the Best, but they didn’t have Moodysson’s level of emotional acuity and perception. Each girl’s behavior or reactions are perfectly observed and executed by the young actors. Each scene seems refined and optimized for truth. Klara’s dad (David Dencik) knows exactly how to tease her at home in such a way that she predictably banishes him from her room, but she can’t fully suppress her smile over her forceful protestations. She knows how she’s supposed to react, but the part of her that wants to listen to her goofy father noodle on the clarinet hasn’t been fully suppressed at this stage of her social development. Bobo cuts her hand at one point, and her panicked reaction to an injury that merely requires some pressure and a band-aid is heart-wrenching, doubly so by the end result of her only calming down by a tight group hug. Hedvig never fully opens up in the same way, correctly so as she’s only known Klara and Bobo for a fraction of the time that they’ve known each other, but the gradual loosening of the constrictive way she holds her body is still apparent as she gets more comfortable. There’s no mannerism or affectation in any of the girls’ scenes, making Moodysson’s naturalistic film a transporting and endlessly charming experience.
The stakes of this light film are nowhere near the drama of Lilya-4-Ever, but they’re not frivolous either. True to his characters first and foremost, Moodysson creates possibilities of fracturing within the group that come from who the girls are at this moment. The film is about them, and what little conflict exists is brought on by their own actions. Like so many teenage spats, the opposite sex plays a part. Klara catches wind of another young punk band, three boys a year or two older than they are. They go to meet them only to find that one member has been exiled for liking a verboten band, leaving one girl the odd one out when it comes time to pair up. Moodysson finds Bobo in this moment, as she knows that it’s going to be her without a partner. We Are the Best maintains its jovial nature for much of its runtime, but when it steps away from it, Bobo’s melancholy fills the void. She is the teen for whom ‘it gets better’ is hollow and useless. The certainty of that bromide does her no good now, and while her relationship with Klara is strong, she’s anxious enough to picture a world where that’s no longer the case. The trio has such an easy rapport with each other that the potential loss of it is as stressful for the viewer as it is for Bobo, yet another confirmation of the ‘sad kids are sad’ truism which European films do so well.
In addition to all the film’s many assets, We Are the Best is also doing emphatic work with its title. While the English phrase doesn’t have any particular lyricism, the Swedish translation, Vi Ar Bast (with the attendant umlauts), arouses a desire to shout that particular series of syllables. It’s forceful and triumphant in its cadence, like someone who didn’t speak Swedish (or any Western language, as it is close to the English) could divine what they mean by the sounds themselves. Moodysson is making a structure-function pair, one that’s utilized in giant letters on the title card and again when his protagonists bellow it out in a well-deserved moment. When a work is operating on that level, something great is happening. The musical stylings of Bobo, Klara, and Hedvig don’t qualify, but the time that Moodysson spends with them very much does. A