ROTTERDAM 2000 REVIEW: "But I'm a Cheerleader," a Half-Time of Hilarity
by G. Allen Johnson
(indieWIRE/2.7.2000) -- Jamie Babbit's directorial debut, "But I'm a Cheerleader," is hilarious
-- for about 30 minutes. It decelerates quickly after that. But where
else are you going to see RuPaul as a reformed gay gone straight? Julie
Delpy as a lipstick lesbian? Bud Cort and Mink Stole as stuffy
conservative parents? A set design of pastel schtick?
Like all good filmmakers in training, Babbit leaves you wanting more --
in this case, her next film, whatever that may be. She has fun with her
material and has a good visual sense.
Buoyed by a fine performance by Natasha Lyonne ("Slums of Beverly
Hills"), the movie is about an All-American cheerleader, Megan, who
finds out she's a lesbian. Eek! There must be some reason she dislikes
kissing her boyfriend -- the captain of the football team. Or adorns her
locker at school with pictures of women in bikinis, while her friends
display the latest cover "Tiger Beat" heartthrobs. Megan even dreams of
cheerleaders with big tits -- but she thinks it's what she aspires to
be, not what she aspires to bed. But geeky mom and dad (Cort and Stole)
-- who wear brown and drive a station wagon (the film, set in modern
day, alternates between a 70s and a 90s universe, seemingly without
rhyme or reason) -- see the warning signs: vegetarianism, Melissa
Etheridge posters, you know the rest. . .
Treating her inclinations like a drug or alcohol addiction, mom, dad and
her friends stage an "intervention" attended by a counselor from "True
Directions" (RuPaul, wearing a "Straight Is Great" t-shirt). "True
Directions" is a camp run by the despotic Nancy (Cathy Moriarty), who
founded the site to straighten out her hunk of a son (named Rock,
naturally). Prim and proper, Nancy is the very picture of uptight
conservatism. "At True Directions," she says, "We don't use
profanity or double negatives."
Megan undergoes a 12-step program, which begins with admitting she is a
homosexual, thus conquering the mountain of denial. The girls at the
camp all wear pink and are schooled in the arts of cooking and
housework; the boys wear blue and play sports, chop wood and fix cars.
The "butch" girl at camp, Graham (Clea DuVall), develops a crush on
Megan, even as she debunks the cheerleader's goody-goody ways.
Babbit, who has made short films and is credited as script supervisor on
David Fincher's "The Game," has a sure-fire concept, but the script
(written by Brian Wayne Peterson based on Babbit's story) fails to
develop the story past the point of being merely a one-joke movie. It
isn't long before this easy-to-watch film becomes predictable. Okay,
some people are homosexuals. Some homosexuals have uptight families who
treat their sexual preference as a disease that can
be treated. Seventies clothes are funny. Shocking pinks and blues are
weird. Let's move on please. . .
"But I'm a Cheerleader" never really moves on. Babbit falls into the bad
habit that afflicts many a filmmaker, and that's inventing situations
that don't necessarily follow, but are convenient to the script. Why,
for example, do the suspected gays and lesbians sleep in the same room
unsupervised? You'd think the camp would mandate a boy-girl, boy-girl
sleeping arrangement, like an elementary school gym class, if the idea
were to "turn" homosexuals into heteros.
Only the inspired idea of a pair of gay guerrillas who invade True
Directions to take the campers on clandestine trips to gay bars spices
up the latter half of the movie. Lyonne, though, deserves credit for
carrying the movie, even if it's a performance composed almost entirely
of reaction shots. With Carol Kane eyes and a quirky ambience about her,
Lyonne could be the next Christini Ricci. In other words, she could be
good doing anything.
But by the, er, climax of "But I'm a Cheerleader"-- a half-baked
sequence that seems to have been inspired by the end of "The Graduate"--
the surprises have long since run out.
[G. Allen Johnson is the film critic for San Francisco Examiner.