But I'm a Cheerleader

Directed by Jamie Babbit
Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, Cathy Moriarty, RuPaul Charles.
MPAA Rating: R for strong language and sexual content involving teens.

Review by Matt Heffernan <matt@filmhead.com>
July 26, 2000

What a very, very strange film But I'm a Cheerleader is. I look at the credits, and, to my amazement, John Waters was not the director. Even a member of his stock company, Mink Stole, makes an appearance, which only adds to its oddly Watersian feel. Actually, this is the first feature directed by Jamie Babbit, who so far has only directed a few shorts and some episodes of "Popular" and "Undressed".

Natasha Lyonne stars as Megan, a suburban girl who wants nothing more than be in the cheerleading squad and have a football star boyfriend. However, these traits are in stark contrast to the rest of her life, which includes being a vegetarian and listening to Melissa Etheridge. She has pictures of girls in her locker door, and making out with her boyfriend seems more like an obligation than something enjoyable. It is blindingly obvious to everybody else that she is a lesbian.

Her family and friends stage an intervention, led by Mike (RuPaul Charles), an ex-homosexual who works for True Directions -- a rehab center for "curing" gayness. She is shipped off to live there, under the supervision of Mary (Cathy Moriarty), who institutes a regimen for getting young people to admit that they are gay and then eventually learn their proper roles in society, as straight men and women.

The most striking element of this film is its visual style, particularly the rehab center. Very bright, practically cartoonish colors are used in costumes and sets. To reinforce their gender roles, the girls wear bright pink, and the boys wear baby blue (which still looks pretty gay, if you ask me). This is combined with a colorful approach to the subject, which is not the sharp satire you might expect. The tone is also cartoonish, making fun of homophobia without saying anything very insightful.

The characters are as thin as an animation cel, but the performances from Lyonne, Moriarty, and the rest make this film work quite well. There are many big laughs by way of the screenplay from Brian Wayne Peterson (based on Babbit's story), who also makes his debut. There are even some tender moments, like when Megan finally finds a loving relationship with fellow inmate Graham (Clea DuVall).

But I'm a Cheerleader may look weird, but it is really a simple comedy at its core. Unfortunately, I think that the filmmakers had loftier ambitions. They'll just have to settle for pure entertainment value, which is more than most films can offer.


For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
But I'm a Cheerleader (1999)

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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan