Wednesday, July 26, 2000

Queer cheers

Straightening out the stereotypes (and the gaze).

Posted By on Wed, Jul 26, 2000 at 12:00 AM

Candy cane-colored skirts flap revealing cherry-colored underpants. Teen earth angels fly on team spirit. Freshly ripening peaches-and-cream complexions glow with it, stoked by the sensuality of girly athleticism: The cheer.

The girls rise in slow motion like springtime sap, pep-charged objects of wonder. The boys may steal glances from the gridiron, but these are the sights of a different gaze.

Megan Bloomfield (American Pie’s Natasha Lyonne) drinks in the scene, tipsy, if not drunk, on girlishness. It’s through her wide eyes that we see her cheerleading teammates fly. But girlsightedness isn’t the only evidence of lesbian tendencies, and so Megan is ambushed by her well-meaning friends and parents, who mount an intervention facilitated by “ex-gay” Mike (an out-of-drag RuPaul), a counselor brought in from a homosexual “rehabilitation” center, True Directions.

A girl friend offers a bikini pinup seized from the door of Megan’s school locker as an exhibit. Her boyfriend testifies that the clumsy, open-mouth slobbering of his kisses leaves her cold. Her father (Dogma’s Bud Cort) even enters her vegetarianism as evidence.

Megan is sentenced to a straight 60 days at True Directions. Dad and Mom (Pecker’s Mink Stole) deliver their little “poodle” into the clutches of the heterosexual boot camp’s director, Mary Brown (Crazy in Alabama’s Cathy Moriarty).

Brown is Cruella De Vil in June Cleaver’s clothing. Her sole agenda is to straighten gays, turning teen queens and dykes into cookie-cuttered, butch-in-blue boys and pretty-in-pink girls. Megan does hard time, softened only when love raises its tomboyish head. Guilty as charged?

But I’m a Cheerleader is subtitled as “A Comedy About Sexual Disorientation,” but director Jamie Babbit’s humor is not the silly teen slapstick or gross-out variety typical of summer movies. It finds its pedigree more in the social satire of post-Polyester John Waters films such as Pecker (1998) or Todd Solondz’ Welcome to the Dollhouse (1995). Production Designer Rachel Kamerman sets Cheerleader in candy colors which lend an intended hyperreality that also recalls Waters.

The inmates and keepers of True Directions are also a rainbow coalition of color: black, white, brown, yellow and — if a parent in fringed buckskin jacket is any indication — red. Those there to be straightened range from jock to yeshiva boy, from goth grrrl to, well, cheerleader, tacitly upsetting gay stereotypes with a subtle militancy.

Cheerleader is weakest in its plot structure, which sags in the middle. Characters win too easily and often the stakes and conflicts aren’t as high as they could be. When Babbit and screenwriter Brian Wayne Peterson stack the deck in favor of their characters, drama gets cheated. But how many teams play a perfect game? Cheerleader still has spirit.

James Keith La Croix writes about film for Metro Times. E-mail letters@metrotimes.com.

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