“Hiersein ist herrlich” (“To be here is wonderful”) – Rainer Maria Rilke
Book-to-film adaptations have never been more popular. From teen dysto-mances to dark horror/thrillers, literary stories are being coaxed, pulled –sometimes even dragged forcibly – out onto the screen with varying degrees of success. Aside from the current onslaught of superhero films and TV shows (limited, it seems, to either the Marvel or DC universe) comics and graphic novels have lagged behind in the adaptation stakes. Fortunately there are always exceptions, and every so often something wholly original is created. We Are the Best, the latest film by Swedish director Lukas Moodysson, is such an exception – based on the comic Never Goodnight (written by his wife Coco), it is a complete and utter delight.
Bobo and Klara are best friends in 1982 Stockholm, united in their hatred of sports and their steadfast refusal to accept that “punk is dead”. With families that are equal parts infuriating and useless, the thirteen year old girls spend their time freely wandering the city. When a band at their local youth center begin to get on their nerves, Bobo and Klara start their own punk band in retaliation, not letting any lack of musical skill stand in their way.
In We Are The Best!, director Lukas Moodysson has captured exactly how it feels to be thirteen. The young characters are perfectly cast and perfectly written: perpetually outraged, politically driven Klara, introspective Bobo, and Hedvig, the quietly self-assured Christian girl who is coerced into the band. The music is loud and infectious, conjuring up an era that much of the audience may be too young to remember but can still feel nostalgia for. I happen to be a fan of many of the bands that inspired the soundtrack, so hearing their Swedish counterparts was hugely enjoyable. For those who aren’t so partial to punk-inspired noise, rest assured: although music may fit the film perfectly, the focus is more on the characters and their relationships and experiences.
The audience spent most of the film laughing, but this isn’t a film filled with forced gags and one-liners – the humor comes from the honesty of the script and performances. For all the joyful optimism, nothing is sugarcoated. Moodysson skillfully treads the fine line between accusation and acknowledgement in his depictions of life’s tougher moments. One scene that stands out shows Bobo toasting fish-fingers (literally – in a toaster) for dinner, as her absent mother has forgotten to come home.
When asked about his approach to the film, Moodysson stated: “I wanted to make a film showing that life –despite all evidence to the contrary – is worth living. It’s wonderful to be a friend, wonderful to play an instrument without knowing how, wonderful to set fire to an old statue, wonderful to have the most annoying parents in the world, wonderful to throw up on someone’s records, wonderful to be booed and mocked, wonderful to be the best”. I think that he has succeeded. We Are The Best! is ultimately uplifting without ever striking a false note. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to call this one of the most faultless films I have ever seen – my only frustration is my own inability to speak Swedish, preventing me from properly reading the original comic. Until I can find someone willing to translate for me, I’ll happily settle for watching the film, again – and again, and again.