Monday, May 31, 2010

But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

The Movie: Megan Bloomfield (the talented Natasha Lyonne; of American Pie infamy among a great many other things) seems the average, well adjusted, all-American Christian girl. She’s a high-school senior and she loves cheerleading. She’s dating Jared (Brandt Wille), a handsome football player. She loves her parents and tries to do what she’s told she’s supposed to.

But things aren’t perfect, as she soon finds out. Megan doesn’t like kissing her boyfriend, and she fantasizes about the other cheerleaders. These and other little signs convince those around her that she is a lesbian. Megan’s parents (Bud Cort, and former John Waters regular Mink Stole) and her so-called friends arrange for an intervention with Mike (drag-queen actor, performer, model and song writer RuPaul; not in drag anywhere in this movie); an ex-gay and representative for True Directions, a homosexual rehabilitation camp. The end result of the intervention is that Megan gets shipped off to True Directions.

True Directions is a nightmarish place run by Mike and his boss, Mary (Cathy Moriarty, of many movies); where young people are taught to follow the “true role” that their gender has set for them. Shortly after she arrives, Megan realizes that she actually is gay. She immediately sets out to complete the program and rectify the problem.

Unfortunately, it’s not going to be anywhere as easy as she thinks it will be. Like any culture of deception, there is an undercurrent of deceit running through all of the social interactions at True Directions. To further complicate matters, Megan finds herself falling for Graham (Clea DuVall of the Faculty and the Astronaut’s Wife), the “bad girl” of the camp. Will Megan become what those in authority want her to be, or will she follow her heart instead?

The Review:
“If I ever catch any of you looking at another guy like that again, I’m going to make you watch sports. All weekend.”

But I’m a Cheerleader can probably be accurately described as a romantic comedy; but at the same time it’s one of those movies that can’t really be pigeonholed into any one particular genre. All of the tropes of the genre are there; the unlikely couple, the initial attraction, the realization of their romantic feelings, the external forces they have to struggle against if they want happiness. However, at the same time BIAC subverts many of those tropes. For one, the central couple is two women instead of the usual man and woman. More than this, But I’m a Cheerleader is a movie with a message; one that rises far above the romantic drama that is going on.

At its core, BIAC is about identity; being true to who you are as opposed to letting others define you. Our central character, Megan, does just that. Throughout most of the movie she is extremely passive, doing whatever others tell her to do, trying to be what she thinks they want her to be. At the beginning, her whole argument against the lesbian diagnoses is that she is not a lesbian because she doesn’t fit the role. She’s not butch; she’s Christian, and most of all she’s a cheerleader. Apparently there are no lesbian cheerleaders.

Even after she realizes that she is, in fact, a lesbian; Megan still doesn’t change her tune. Her initial reaction to it is to simply try harder to complete the program and be properly straight. Later on, when Lloyd and Larry (Wesley Mann and Richard Moll, respectively), two ex-ex-gays who are trying to subvert Mary’s program, help some of the kids sneak out to a gay nightclub; one gets the impression that Megan goes along not necessarily because she wants to, but because it’s what the other kids are doing.

Finally, when she is kicked out of True Directions for her and Graham consummating their love, and seeks refuge with Lloyd and Larry, Megan straight out tells them “I want you to teach me how to be a lesbian.” Again, she hasn’t really changed; she just figures that she’s a lesbian now and therefore needs someone to define the role for her. It isn’t until the very end, when Megan is about to lose the last thing in her life that she loves, that she stops being passive and takes control of her own life.

The casting, the acting and the characters are wonderful. One of the great things about BIAC is that, while it does play with the usual gay stereotypes, it makes it clear that there is far more to these people than the stereotype. One of the girls in the program doesn’t even belong; she’s really straight. It’s just that she likes softball and baggie clothes, isn’t as pretty as the other girls, and was molested at some point; so everybody assumes she’s gay.

It’s clear pretty quickly what side of the “can homosexuality be cured” question the movie falls on. Mike, the devotedly ex-gay authority figure, very obviously is attracted to Rock (Eddie Cibrian); Mary’s very muscular and attractive son. Rock very definitely does not fit any of the parameters of manliness that Mary espouses; and there is some strong suggestion that Mike’s attentions are reciprocated. Although it doesn’t go into it, some of Mary’s lines of dialogue suggest that she, herself, might lean a little toward the homo side of the fence.

Finally, But I’m a Cheerleader is hilarious. There is a really offbeat sense of humor throughout; and though there is some unpleasant stuff (it could just be me, but I find the “therapy” extremely disturbing), there’s never any doubt that things will turn out alright in the end. There are wonderful sight gags, dialogue, characters; I could go on. In short, But I’m a Cheerleader is a very fun, hilarious and uplifting movie.

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