Running time: 111 minutes. Rated: PG-13 (thematic elements, strong language and sexual material, and some teen drinking). On Netflix.
Amy Poehler might want to reconsider the whole directing thing.
The actress, needless to say, is a comedic powerhouse on-screen, and she has also made waves as a prolific producer of television. Poehler, who co-hosted the “Golden Globe Awards” for the third time Sunday, has seemingly evolved into a Hollywood jill of all trades . . . except for one, that is.
“Moxie” is the second feature film she’s sat in the director’s chair for, after the unfortunate 2019 misfire “Wine Country,” and she still can’t tell an engaging story with panache.
A frustratingly bland young-adult feminist comedy without good jokes, “Moxie” is a cross between a hokey ’90s family sitcom and a vastly superior teen film, such as “Lady Bird.” Visually, the movie is not so much simple as it is routine. Emotionally, it’s catatonic. Poehler’s film lacks — please forgive me — moxie.
The spunky title comes from a fictional underground feminist magazine created by a high-school outcast named Vivian (Hadley Robinson), who becomes inspired by her mom Lisa’s (Poehler) youthful activism. How do we know she is inspired?
“Thanks for inspiring me,” Vivian tells Lisa as though she’s a talking Hallmark card.
Adapted from a young-adult novel of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu, the film’s dialogue is all rather clunky. When Vivian finally is courted by the rare guy who is nice to her, Seth (Nico Hiraga), he says, “Back in kindergarten, you always wanted to take the spiders outside when everybody else wanted to smash them.”
Always? What kind of run-down, arachnid-infested school was this?
Although no one knows Vivian founded the red-hot Moxie, which encourages defiant acts of protest such as wearing a tank top, she becomes more confident and outgoing in her personal life. She starts making like-minded new friends.
One named Kiera (Sydney Park) competes against the popular quarterback of the football team, Mitchell (Patrick Schwarzenegger), to win a scholarship called the Student Athlete Award. The person with the most votes gets it, which seems like a strange way to give somebody money for an education.
Mitchell, by the way, is cartoonishly cruel — like Biff from “Back to the Future,” without the fun or originality. On the flip side is Seth, who is so impossibly kind and sensitive, he may well be a reincarnated corgi.
This movie isn’t the right one to judge these young actors on, however. There is talent here. The group’s camaraderie is nice to watch, and their understanding of the characters, such as they are, is thorough. Vivian is Robinson’s biggest film role to date, and she is relaxed and likable, although Poehler’s Lisa has no strong maternal connection to her.
Honestly, I’d rather see Poehler throw care to the wind and star in “Baby Mama 2.”