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'But I'm a Cheerleader'

It's hard to know what to make of 'But I'm a Cheerleader'

Friday, September 15, 2000

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

Study question: Is "lesbian cheerleader" an oxymoron -- or is the inventor of the concept a moron?

'But I'm A Cheerleader'

RATING: R for language and sex themes

STARRING: Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, Cathy Moriarty, RuPaul

DIRECTOR: Jamie Babbit

WEB SITE: www.kushner-locke

CRITIC'S CALL: 2 stars


As the search for universal truth goes, it may not rank with "What is the sound of one hand clapping?" but it provides dilemma enough for Megan (Natasha Lyonne) in director Jamie Babbit's "But I'm a Cheerleader."

Megan is dating the captain of the football team, but doesn't like his yucky French kisses. That, plus other overwhelming evidence (such as the fact that she's a vegetarian), points to one and only one thing: She must be a homosexual. As a result of which, a somber family intervention informs her that she's to be sent off to "True Directions," a homosexual-rehabilitation camp, to correct her sexual orientation.

It's a House on Haunted-Homo Hill, run by a sex director from hell -- the Nurse Ratchet of Rehab -- Mary J. Brown (in an over-the-top performance by Cathy Moriarty, of "Raging Bull" and "Hairspray" ex-fame). Megan arrives there in a daze with her poms-poms to be informed that "denial is part of the healing process." There she meets up with her fellow rehabilitees in their brutal "gender-identity training": The fey boys are forced to fix cars, the tough girls to sew wedding gowns.

Are they kidding?

Yes and no. It's a satire, but there's a serious love relationship developing between Megan and Graham (Clea DuVall), an unrepentant rich girl who's only at True Directions on the insistence of her parents, to avoid the cutoff of her trust fund. Together, they sneak out at night to a gay bar and otherwise undermine Mary's heterosexual "simulation" exercises ("Foreplay is for sissies!").

Brian Wayne Peterson's script is watered-downed John Waters -- a grotesque burlesque of a gay chick-flick.

Faithful readers may know, or care in the least, that I never look at any other reviews before writing my own. But in this case I couldn't resist. The results were mixed, to say the least. A sampling: "the year's funniest" (San Francisco Examiner), "any self-respecting lesbian should rear up in horror" (Entertainment Weekly), "dumb, heavy-handed satire" (New York Post).

You've gotta hand it to 'em, in a way; "But I'm a Cheerleader" is the all-time most bizarre and unpredictable entry in the cheerleading genre -- so bizarre, it's not even in the genre, notwithstanding its title. I'm hard pressed to know what to make of it. The studio tells us it's the tale of "a young girl finding the courage to be herself."


On the other hand, maybe she should find the courage to be somebody else.

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