The Revision: We Are the Best!

In 1982, Coco Moodysson was 12 years old and wanted nothing more than to start a punk band. The little matter of not being able to play an instrument (or even owning one) didn’t matter to her, her friend Klara, and Klara’s sister, Matilda. They also didn’t care everyone kept telling them punk was over.

Moodysson’s Never Goodnight is a charming memoir of early adolescence where everything seemed possible and no one could tell you no. Don’t have money for a guitar? Just beg on the street and then when that doesn’t generate enough, go spend the money on junk food. It’s OK to ignore that hand-me-down bass only has two strings. Everything is possible and even boys aren’t going to get in the way.

Cover of Coco Moodysson's Never Goodnight

My absolute favorite panel — and probably a great summary of the book — is when the three girls are introduced to The Clash and after dancing around, they lie down on the floor. Coco, between sobs, declares “I am never going to listen to any other music” and Matilda says it’s the best day of her entire life. Music can be that powerful and transformative.

Moodysson’s art is all bold, heavy black lines and blocky skewed perspectives. There’s a precision to the oddness with which she draws. It feels purposefully amateur, but it’s charming and definitely very punk rock. I can see how it may be off-putting to some people, but I like it and the more I spent time with this, the more I see how much Moodysson can control the elusive changes in facial expressions and body language from moment to moment.

By the end, Coco is gifted an album by The Cure and the book ends with her dreaming that she’s playing in a box with Robert Smith. Truly, the punk dream never dies.

We Are the Best! (2013, directed by Coco Moodysson’s husband, Lukas Moodysson) is an affection adaptation and reimagining of Coco’s story. The lead character here is named Bobo (Mira Barkhammar) and shares a lot of similarities with Coco but they are distinct characters. Bobo is quieter and more reserved. Klara (Mira Grosin) is a bit louder and angrier than her comic counterpart. The two recruit a reserved, sheltered girl, Hedvig (Liv LeMoyne), to join their band because she can actually play guitar.

Many scenes are lifted from the comic — getting drunk at a sibling’s party, befriending a couple of fellow punk boys that leads to romantic complications — but the addition of Hedvig and her transformation to a self-confident punk gives the movie a bit more conflict than the comic.

But let me be clear — there is very little conflict here. Even when Bobo and Klara get into trouble for cutting Hedvig’s hair, it’s not much of a big deal in the end. The biggest issue between them is when Bobo and Klara fight over Elis (Jonathan Salomonsson) but everything is resolved because punk music is more important.

And surprisingly, the trio does manage to become a halfway decent band, although the audience at Västerås is unappreciative. In true punk-rock fashion, they turn it around on them and instead of singing their song “Hate the Sport,” they start singing “Hate Västerås.” Their fearless belief in themselves and each other is magical.

This movie is so sweet and kind. It’s beautiful watching these three girls face the world with intelligence and concern. The movie lets them be young and playful and so much of it just feels natural (I suspect some scenes were improvised). The three young actresses do such a great job of being open and vulnerable but not in a way that feels explorative. It feels less like they’re acting and more that they just got to exist. (Each has only had a couple of credits since this movie so I get the feeling none were particularly interested in being professional actors.)

We know what happened to Coco — she grew up to make comics! I like to imagine Bobo grew up to do so too, or she’s at least making music.

We Are the Best! is a great example that an adaptation doesn’t have to be fully accurate to work. This movie captures the charm and sweetness of Never Goodnight while still getting to exist on its own. Both are beautiful and great. After I finished Never Goodnight this time around, I immediately had to rewatch the movie. I love both of them that much.