Thursday, September 24, 2009

But I'm a Cheerleader

The Wife and I watched But I'm a Cheerleader last night, a satirical, lesbian-themed teen sex comedy. The basic premise is the parents and friends of a goody-goody cheerleader stage an intervention and ship her off to a gender orientation camp when they begin to suspect she's a closet lesbian. Which we thought would be great, except for the fact that the satire was half-hearted at best and we kept waiting for it to make with the funny. I haven't been so disappointed in a movie since I saw Steven Spielberg's milquetoast version of War of the Worlds.

That's too bad, because every minute of this movie screams "Potential!" Scripted by Brian Wayne Peterson (writer of many Smallville episodes) from a story by director Jamie Babbit, the narrative feels like a first draft. The situations are there, the plot is in place and the characters are fairly well defined. But it doesn't follow through on that promise. The satire of the "True Directions" camp is ripe, with a garish, monochromatic pink world for the girls and an equally garish monochromatic blue for the boys. Absurdly inappropriate phallic symbols abound, and the camp director is high-strung and overbearing, but there's no payoff. The audience, apparently, is expected to laugh at the same "Isn't this absurd?" setting throughout. The satire is very passive, never reaching for that aggressive, biting farce that could actually engage the audience.

Throughout the film, Babbit softpedals the humor, which mostly consists of occasional one-liners buried among endless minutes of ham-fisted dialogue. In fact, halfway through the film I realized I was sitting through a modern-day string of "very special" episodes from a second-rate Facts of Life knockoff. It's apparent that Babbit believes she's "saying something important," but this comes through in almost ever scene and gets in the way of entertainment. Instead of the absurd fun of The Birdcage or even the gentle, character-driven humor of Imagine Me & You, Babbit gives us the dreariest gay bar in history and a limp finale highlighted by quite possibly the lamest, most uninspired cheerleader routine ever. Which is doubly unforgivable, since the immediate buildup to the finale involved suiting up in camo fatigues in a way that brought to mind the gloriously over-the-top finale to Animal House. We didn't get Animal House. We didn't even get Revenge of the Nerds or Meatballs, which in many ways are the thematic ancestors of this film, dealing with issues of personal identity, societal rejection and discrimination.

As I watched the film, I found myself recalling those earlier movies--along with a few John Hughes spectaculars--and rewriting the script in my mind. All the elements are there (in particular, integrating the disco-dancing male clientele of the gay bar with the final cheerleading routine would be comedy gold. And even if it wasn't, it couldn't be any worse than the current ending). There is soooo much opportunity to make with the funny, and not get bogged down with serious issues. In other words, to entertain the audience rather than preach to them. If it couldn't be Meatballs or The Birdcage, then at least it could aspire to In & Out. As it is, But I'm a Cheerleader pretty much fails on all levels.

Now Playing: Billy Joel Fantasies & Delusions

1 comment:

  1. I saw that a few years ago. I was a little more charitable, but it really wasn't that great a movie.