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'Moxie' review: Amy Poehler's teen drama offers a positive and hopeful message 

Hadley Robinson as Vivian in Netflix's "Moxie."

Hadley Robinson as Vivian in Netflix's "Moxie." Credit: NETFLIX

MOVIE "Moxie"

WHERE Streaming on Netflix

WHAT IT'S ABOUT Amy Poehler steps behind the camera for the second time as director with "Moxie," an adaptation of a 2017 novel of the same name about a 16-year-old named Vivian Carter (Hadley Robinson) who starts anonymously writing a feminist zine to push back at the entrenched sexism in her suburban high school.

Poehler (whose directorial debut was Netflix's "Wine Country") also plays Vivian's mom Lisa, whose quasi-hidden riot grrrl past inspires the shy Vivian's awakening to the injustices around her and determination to fight back.

Co-stars in the picture, now streaming on Netflix, also include Patrick Schwarzenegger as a villainous jock, Lauren Tsai as Vivian's best friend Claudia, Marcia Gay Harden as an aloof principal and Ike Barinholtz as a teacher who is just too cool for the morning announcements.

MY SAY "Moxie" starts out on less-than-sure footing: the notion that a member of Generation Z might write a zine of protest, rather than, say, turning to Instagram or TikTok, seems quaint to the point of defying belief.

That's dangerous ground when it comes to launching a movie that aims to tap into very real currents of protest and anger. You can't be of the moment if your basic premise seems stuck in the past.

But Poehler's direction infuses the movie with a sense of righteous fury, which transcends the familiar girl power trappings such as the frequent presence of the punk rockers Bikini Kill on the soundtrack and lands on something true and cathartic.

Her cast, led by Robinson, brings a sense of passionate conviction to their growing rebellion that sweeps across Rockport High School, standing opposed to the patriarchal forces that lead to everything from unequal dress code standards to the tacit acceptance of a crude list in which the boys rank the girls according to sexual categories.

The movie takes Vivian and her fellow students seriously, rather than making the easy mistake of regarding them from a distance, with the perspective of adults who have been around this block before.

That sensibility carries "Moxie" through rough patches that become forgivable when they're framed with the context of such a positive message.

The screenplay, by Tamara Chestna and Dylan Meyer, operates in broad strokes. The dialogue relies too heavily on platitudes at the expense of conversations that reflect the ways people actually talk. The litany of injustices are spelled out a tad too obviously: you wish Poehler and the screenwriters had trusted the teen girl audience they're targeting a bit more.

At the same time, Schwarzenegger's Mitchell Wilson is aggressively, painstakingly hostile — an embodiment of toxic masculinity in one single football player. On the flip side, the kindhearted ally Seth Acosta (Nico Hiraga), who becomes Vivian's boyfriend, is so sweet and understanding that he scarcely seems real.

In other words, "Moxie" does not exactly offer a subtle depiction of this world or the characters inhabiting it. Everything is spelled out pretty clearly. But there's something infectious and even moving about its earnestness.

Though there are moments of doubt and despair, these characters believe that their activism means something and might spur genuine change. Poehler embraces this optimistic spirit, recognizes their frustration with the status quo and rejects the cynicism of anyone who would suggest that remaking society might be most effectively achieved gradually.

BOTTOM LINE Amy Poehler's "Moxie" offers a positive and hopeful message that sustains it despite some flaws.

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