Sunday, December 7, 2008

But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

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Ten years later and this film is still incredibly relevant, which is actually sad. Jamie Babbit's But I'm a Cheerleader is an over-the-top satire about the paranoia and ridiculousness that can emerge from closed-mindedness and homophobia. Seventeen-year-old Megan Bloomfield (Natasha Lyonne) is a perky, innocent cheerleader who is a vegetarian, listens to Melissa Etheridge, has a Georgia O'Keefe poster, and doesn't like to kiss her football-player boyfriend. Her devout Christian parents (Bud Cort and Mink Stole) and friends (including Michelle Williams) add up these factors to equal: Lesbian. She denies these allegations but is shipped off to the de-gayification camp "True D
irections", anyway. It's run by Mary J. Brown (Cathy Moriarty), a picture of femininity offset by her husky voice, and "former" homosexual Mike (an out-of-drag RuPaul). The rules of the camp are thus: Girls and Boys are separated by gender in their own rooms and learning groups. Girls wear pink house dresses and boys wear blue short-and-button-up-shirt combinations. There are several steps, including admitting one's homosexuality and finding a "root"- the cause of it ("My mother got married in pants", "I was born in France", "Traumatic breasts, so, yeah..."). The overall effect, in theory, is to produce upright men and women who understand and operate within traditional gender roles.

Megan meets resident bad girl/spoiled brat Graham (Clea DuVall) and, having realized she is indeed a lesbian (she never realized other girls didn't have the same thoughts she did), finds herself attracted to her against her own judgment. Megan struggles with wanting to please her parents and do the "Christian" thing while her feelings for Graham deepen and are eventually reciprocated. Meanwhile the girls learn to clean house and change diapers, while the boys learn to fix cars and chop wood. Rogue former True Directions runaways Loyd and Larry (Wesley Mann and Richard Moll) infiltrate the camp and give the kids a taste of gay living so they know their options. Of course, these are mostly just kids who don't want to be excommunicated from their parents' homes (as Megan and Graham will) and hope to live "normal" lives someday, so most of them do their best to make it through the steps whether or not they believe in them. Megan must decide for herself whether she'll choose to live in denial or be herself.

What starts off as a very funny tongue-in-cheek comedy about the general stupidity of the over-zealous and bigoted transforms into a still-funny but also very touching love story. When I first saw the movie I was surprised by how taken I was with Graham and Megan's relationship, which is portrayed subtly and truly. This is a witty and well-executed comedy to be sure, but a poignant romance in its own right. The performances are excellent, with the endearing Natasha Lyonne, underappreciated Clea DuVall, and memorable Cathy Moriarty leading a top-notch supporting cast. The visuals are done really well, with the wash of pinks and blues spreading across clothes, walls, and furniture to create a campy 1950's picture book of gender roles. And of course, the soundtrack! Almost completely made up of rad female bands! Great job, to everyone involved.

4.5/5

"Chick Habit"- April March
"If You Should Try and Kiss Her"- Dressy Bessy

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