Directed by: Jamie Babbit
Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Clea Duvall, Rupaul Charles
Oh, how this reviewer wanted to love this movie. From the moment I heard its title, so campy -- yet so girly -- I hounded Ashely to let me screen it. In a satisfyingly ironic twist, I watched Cheerleader on the anniversary of the day my first love relegated me to the closet (along with her cheerleading pompons and homecoming-queen tiara). And so, after wearing black all last week, I was looking forward to a therapeutic healing of the searing pain of my secretly-queer adolescence by watching a kitschy, over-the-top film about someone else's secretly-queer adolescence. Now that you've been forewarned that I came to the party with high expectations for this movie, you can take the following not-so-glowing review with a grain of salt and a pinch of polyester. There's a moral to But I'm a Cheerleader, but first, here's the plot: Seventeen-year-old Megan (Natasha Lyonne) is living a happy, typical, none-too-reflective life when her parents -- fearing that she may be a lesbian -- join with her friends and stage a 12-step-style intervention. Before she can say good-bye to her handsome yet moody boyfriend, she's whisked off to True Directions, a treatment center for the rehabilitation of homosexuals. It's there that our story unfolds. We journey with Megan as, under the guiding hands/fascist control of the True Directions staff, she and her fellow deprogrammees probe their pasts, their bodies and each other, and ask: "Am I a homo? If so, what is my 'root' cause, and how can I overcome it?" Part of the problem with this movie is that we never really care about the answers to these questions -- but, in hindsight, maybe that's the point. These shortcomings aside, the movie does have its pleasures, which include: 1) The pink. The set design is the real star of this movie. Pink polyester and acrylic abound within the confines of True Directions, which is a pantheon of sterility and rectitude. Even the garden flowers are plastic, and the paving bricks lie in morbidly straight rows outside a garish Carpenter Gothic/Queen Anne house, the sort of "appealing-yet-deeply-foreboding" architecture that shows up in all horror-genre films. The set is an homage to John Waters, and the director wants to make sure you know that. 2) RuPaul in his first (and very convincing) screen role as an ex-gay straight man. 3) Clea DuVall, in this, her final below-the-radar role. You heard it here: DuVall is on the road to stardom in her role as Graham, the girl with whom Megan gets paired with in yet another pathetically-confused workshop entitled, "One of the Greatest Pleasures of Healthy Heterosexuality: The Friendship." So, what's not to like? The movie's a sheer, complete waste of money and talent. Director Jamie Babbit states that, with Cheerleader, she intended to "feminize" camp. Hmm. Seems to me that camp is about taking the deep pain of oppression and twisting it into a kind of frenetic, biting hilarity. But if one is afraid to confront real suffering, one can't have camp. Perhaps when one is stuffed to the pom-poms with corporate movie-money, one becomes too bloated to bite.