But I'm a Cheerleader is a 1999 satirical romantic comedy film directed by Jamie Babbit and written by Brian Wayne Peterson. Natasha Lyonne stars as Megan Bloomfield, an apparently happy heterosexual high school cheerleader. However, her friends and family are convinced that she is a homosexual and arrange an intervention, sending her to a residential inpatient reparative therapy camp to cure her lesbianism. There Megan soon realizes that she is indeed a lesbian and, despite the therapy, gradually comes to embrace her sexual orientation. The supporting cast includes Dante Basco, Eddie Cibrian, Clea DuVall, Cathy Moriarty, RuPaul, Richard Moll, Mink Stole, Kip Pardue, Michelle Williams, and Bud Cort. But I'm a Cheerleader was Babbit's first feature film. It was inspired by an article about conversion therapy and her childhood familiarity with rehabilitation programs. She used the story of a young woman finding her sexual identity to explore the social construction of gender roles and heteronormativity. The costume and set design of the film highlighted these themes using artificial textures in intense blues and pinks.
Take director John Waters and give him a really good actress like Natasha Lyonne, a paltry budget of, say, $1 million, and ask him to make a satire about a ‘gay rehab camp,’ and you might come up with something like But I’m a Cheerleader.
Then again, Waters might have come up with something funny, like Pecker. With such a meaty topic as Family Values ripe for a send-up, you’d think it would be easy to milk Cheerleader for comic value. Unfortunately, first-time feature director Jamie Babbit (whose few credits including directing the MTV series Undressed and acting as script supervisor on The Game) doesn’t appear to have much ability behind the camera, which becomes painfully apparent after only a few minutes.
The story follows Megan (Lyonne), a high school cheerleader who wrestles with lesbian tendencies. She dreams of women’s thighs while her boyfriend tongue-bathes her. She even has a Melissa Etheridge poster. Naturally, mom and dad want this gayness nipped in the bud, so they call in ‘True Directions,’ a homosexual-rehab group run by Mary Brown (Cathy Moriarty) that resembles 28 Days detox-center crossed with a McDonald’s kiddie play area.
Everything at True Directions is cast in hot pink or baby blue (to let the recruits empathize with their gender), and exercises consist of learning to vacuum (ladies) and chopping wood (guys). Naturally, there are self-affirmations and admissions of homosexuality — all part of the road to healing.
In the clink, Megan meets rough-and-tumble lesbian Graham (Clea DuVall, looking to make a career out of playing rough-and-tumble lesbian types), and naturally they fall in love. Will they run off together and become societal outcasts or will they graduate? Well, you need only wait about 75 zippy minutes to find out.
But I’m a Cheerleader plays a lot like a sitcom, only not a very funny one. (Perhaps a laugh track would have helped?) The addition of good actors like Melanie Lynskey (Heavenly Creatures) and Michelle Williams (Halloween: H20) is far outweighed by using yesterday’s pop-culture jokes like RuPaul (not in drag!), Mink Stole, and especially Moriarty. The editing, directing, and cinematography don’t help, either. (Have fun while you watch: see how many times you can count the boom microphone drifting into frame!) The result is a haphazardly constructed mess that’s totally off when it comes to comedic timing, and essentially unable to muster even the tiniest bit of sympathy for any of its cast, even if True Directions-style places really do exist.
But perhaps the most egregious error is casting Natasha Lyonne as a cheerleader. Lesbian, yes. Cheerleader, no. Lyonne strikes me as more of a band girl. Oh right — I almost forgot — it’s supposed to be a satire.
But the audience is bored.