Re-Watch: But I’m a Cheerleader (1999)

But I’m a Cheerleader
Director: Jamie Babbit
Writer: Brian Peterson
Cast: Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall, Melanie Lynskey, Katrina Phillips, Katharine Towne, Joel Michaely, Douglas Spain, Dante Basco, Kip Pardue, Cathy Moriarty, Bud Cort, Mink Stole, RuPaul, Eddie Cibrian, Michelle Williams, Wesley Mann, Richard Moll, Julie Delpy
Seen on: 16.5.2021
[Here’s my first review.]

Content Note: (critical treatment of) homomisia, conversion therapy

Plot:
Megan (Natasha Lyonne) comes from a good Christian household, is a cheerleader, has a boyfriend. That’s why she is completely blindsided when her parents (Bud Cort, Mink Stole) suddenly cart her off to True Direction, a “rehabilitation facility” for turning homosexuals into heterosexuals. There Megan undergoes rigorous training together with other kids in the same position. But what happens when you put five lesbians into a room? Well, sparks fly – and so Megan finds herself drawn to Graham (Clea DuVall).

When I watched But I’m a Cheerleader for the first time, I hadn’t realized yet that I was into women myself, and let me tell you, the film hits differently when you know you’re queer. I definitely liked it more now than I did back then (though I did like it then, too). In fact, I adored it.

The film poster showing Megan (Natasha Lyonne) in a pink ball gown, holding a cheerleading pompom.

But I’m a Cheerleader is a wonderfully funny film. Conversion therapy is not the easiest topic to make a comedy about, but they really go for it here, by turns being ridiculous and bittersweet. Everything they do is completely out there, and yet it is pretty much perfectly in line with what conversion therapy actually practices (and preaches).

While there are both gay guys and lesbian girls in the facility, the focus lies on the girls. And while the girls are all comedic types, they all represent a different flavor of lesbianism. With the boys, it doesn’t quite work that way, I felt. They all seem very pigeonholed. I mean, yes, arguably only the campy queers would end up getting forced into conversion therapy, but it would have done the film some good to drop a line to make clear that this is their intention (if, of course, that was their intention).

The to-be-reformed kids watching a film at True Direction.

I do wonder how I could have watched this film and not realize that I was totally into women given everything that Clea DuVall is (but then again, that’s a question that has been with me since I saw The Faculty for the first time when I was 14), or Lyonne’s cuteness, or Delpy’s short hot moments. Heteronormativity is such a drug.

In any case, being mostly off it, the film was much more affecting to me. I really loved Graham and Megan, the film’s fantastic production design, its wild sense of humor. In short, I just really loved this film, and it got elevated to being one of my favorites now.

Graham (Clea DuVall) and Megan (Natasha Lyonne) sharing a quiet moment at True Direction.

Summarizing: fantastic, great, adorable.

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