by Greg Muskewitz
Straight camp, eh? You think it works? You must be the disoriented one if you think it does. "But I'm a Cheerleader" is "a comedy of sexual disorientation," a ryely, hilarious film from newcomer Jamie Babbit. A combination of the right actors, the right tone, the right subject matter to satire, and the right style to film it in, easily qualifies this as one of the most laudable and funny comedies of the year. (But I'll still go on record as saying "Scary Movie" was funnier!)In the press kit for "But I'm a Cheerleader," director Jamie Babit calls it her interest, "in the hyper-real." Everything from the sets, to the costumes are highly stylized in an obviously absurd, yet wholly fascinating way that lend it a completely unique figure.
"Everything is in proper order --er, disarray!"
Megan (Natasha Lyonne) the average high school cheerleader. Reddish spandex top, short skirt, big pom-poms, et al. She lives with the average mother and father (Mink Stole and Bud Cort) who believe in all that is right. She has the average quarterback/all-star/captain of the team boyfriend, who just loves to make out by shoving his tongue down her throat. She thinks everything's normal. Her friends, however, don't --they all think she's gay. The evidence? Pictures of females in her locker, obsession with the color pink, posters of artists like Melissa Ethridge, etc. So her "concerned" friends and stereotypical Christian parents send her off to True Direction, a five-step sexual rehabilitation center.
The first step is admitting she a homosexual, but that doesn't come without some hard convincing. For Megan still fails to believe she's a lesbian, until it's pointed out by another, that the way she looks at other women, is not the way everyone else does.
The center is run by Mary Brown (Cathy Moriarty), whose decor is that of a life-sized Barbie house. The walls are pink and purple, and everything is in perfect 1950's style with eccentric colors. Her assistant is Mike (RuPaul Charles), who wears a shirt that reads, "Straight Is Great!" and claims that he was once gay, but now has found his true direction.
On her way to being "straightened out," Megan, looking like the ideal housewife (exercises include scrubbing the floor, vacuuming, etc.), is well on her way to recovering. Progression stops when the butchest, the tomboy, Graham (Clea DuVall) has a different effect on Megan. The two begin to fall in love shortly, but must keep it on a hidden level to get out of the camp. Otherwise, Megan's parents threatened to disown her, and Graham's father will write her out of his will.
There are so many little plot quirks which add to the hilarity and rara avis of this film, such as the electrode shocker they have to use when they have a naughty thought, or Lloyd and Larry (Wesley Mann and Richard Moll), two long-time rebels from Mary's camp. It's all very simplistic, but very fun --a twist on the average romantic comedy, but as an additionally scathing satire.
"But I'm a Cheerleader" has some moments of seriousness, and aside from being a pro-gay film, is also of a distant cry to those hiding to let them know it's okay; they're not alone. However outreaching that message, is to me, no concern, but the production of the movie, is quite archetypical. Jules LaBarthe's cinematography is bright, bubblely, and flamboyant. It's an attractive eye-candy quality. The same should be said for Rachel Kamerman's production design which drips with color and style. It's something you'd imagine one of the Ompa Loompa's living in from "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory."
Babit has also assembled a first-rate cast! Natasha Lyonne is finally getting the kind of role that grabbed her the auspicious attention in "Slums of Beverly Hills." She slowed, however, taking some poor choices in roles with movies such as "Detroit Rock City," and a minimal role in "American Pie." She's got an awesome, raspy and sexy voice, with a wide range of suitable facial expressions. Clea DuVall, another young favorite of mine, is also finely tuned. She is in most case been similarly stuck in the background of movies such as "The Faculty," "She's All That," and "The Astronaut's Wife." DuVall always does very well with what she's given, but more often than not, she's not given enough. And the physical demand the actresses were requested to perform, was quite noticeable, and they both handled it extremely well.
It was nice to Mink Stole in a movie outside of John Waters, or in any movie at all. From starting off as an amateur way back in the 1960s, she has come a long way and her comedic skills and character's appearance are a nice addition. Cathy Moriarty, RuPaul, and Katharine Towne were also placed well in their respective roles, along with some great cameos.
As for Jamie Babit, her debut film turned out the best she could have hoped for. It's way silly, but the laughs are constant and well written. Everything falls very nicely in place. A very, very funny movie.Final Verdict: A-
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originally posted: 08/02/00 19:01:12