Universal // 1999 // 86 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Norman Short (Retired) // October 18th, 2000
A Comedy Of Sexual Disorientation.
But I'm a Cheerleader is a low budget comedy that tries to spoof attitudes toward homosexuality and those organizations which try to convert homosexuals to heterosexuality. Stereotypes abound and people are so pigeonholed that it must be intentional, yet this self awareness does not contribute to the comedy. In fact this is a comedy masquerading as a serious exploration of a serious issue and accomplishing neither. Decent performances almost make this film worth watching, and there is a chuckle or two among the mess, but the film works neither as comedy or drama. Seemingly Universal knows the difficulty in reaching people with this film as well, since it is a very barebones disc without a Dolby Digital soundtrack. Still a fine anamorphic transfer and a decent disc for those who truly like the film.
Megan (Natasha Lyonne-Modern Vampires) is a popular teenager; a cheerleader with a football player for a boyfriend. But her friends and family decide she must be a lesbian because of "all the warning signs" such as having pictures of female singers on her wall and being a vegetarian. The truth is that they are right, though for all the wrong reasons. Megan has never truly desired her boyfriend and daydreams about girls. After an "intervention" her family ships her off to "True Directions," a place where ex-homosexuals try to convince their clients and themselves that they are no longer gay. Cathy Moriarty and RuPaul (playing as a man) play the headmasters of this camp for confused gay teenagers. As the program moves along, it has the opposite effect; convincing Megan that she is indeed a lesbian and that she is in love with a fellow client named Graham (Clea DuVall). From there on it's a laugh an hour as they try to have it both ways; be lesbians while learning not to be.
The premise for the film has merit; putting a teenager into one of these deprogramming places and seeing the conflict between nature and psychology at work. The premise would have had much more to work with as a drama than as a comedy; there are only so many gay jokes you can do before they get old and they alone cannot carry the film. At times the film tries to be that drama as it explores how people perceive gays and how the people feel about themselves and their sexual orientation. Unfortunately the film, like the main characters, tries to have it both ways and be both spoof and seriously thought-provoking.
The film has an interesting look that on first examination reminded me of Edward Scissorhands with its pastel colors garishly out of place in normal life. Here the pastels are all pinks and blues that are meant to continue the prevailing parody of effeminimity. That could seem smart and self aware but just never reaches that point where I found something intelligent in it.
The video transfer is from Universal, and the film is very new so you can expect the picture quality to be fine, and it is. This 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer looks very good, with vivid pastel colors and a dearth of artifacts. Some film grain comes through but that is really the only detriment to a fine looking transfer. The soundtrack is only offered in Dolby surround, but is more than adequate to the film. It is mainly dialogue driven with musical interludes, and the music is virtually the only time the rear channels are utilized. Dialogue and music are clearly understood, which is all the film needed.
That is where I stop with even sidelong compliments. But I will admit this is a difficult subject, and it is virtually impossible to approach without your own preconceptions and ideas about homosexuality. I do not consider homosexuals "abnormal" and believe they are entitled to every protection and privilege under the law as anyone else, including marriage or civil unions (a euphemism that unsuccessfully attempted to appease the religious right). Do I believe places like "True Directions" actually have success stories of people whose religious beliefs won out over their sexual orientation? Sure. I believe that with enough conditioning you can get someone to almost anyplace you want. But I certainly don't agree with sending off teenagers who are still confused about just what their desires are to someplace that tries to convince them they are not normal. I'm sure the film doesn't either; but the lines of what it is trying to spoof isn't clear. If they were trying to treat homosexuals in a positive light I can't fathom why nearly every gay person in the film is flamboyantly stereotypical. I can believe it is spoofing the types of places "True Directions" represents as a variety of stupid and sometimes cruel techniques are perpetuated upon the clients as they convince them that to be "normal" they must conform to the 1950s version of gender roles. Boys spit, play football, and chop wood; and girls clean house and wear bouffant hairdos. The trouble is the spoofing isn't funny, but the film is obviously trying to be a comedy. In the end the film succeeds neither as a comedy nor a drama.
I felt distinctly uncomfortable watching this film and I suppose that was the intent. Again, as a thought provoking drama centered on characters that aren't hopelessly stereotypical I could appreciate that, but as a silly spoof I can't. Intellectual discomfort and farcical comedy do not mix well. If anything I got a sense of cruelty out of the film as both parents and de-programmers are simply horrid to these kids. Lots of laughs to be mined there.
So far as the disc goes, only a poor quality full frame trailer is included as a bonus feature. Universal usually gives far more attention to their discs and this one seems like a cast off second hand film coming from them. A commentary track might have given me insight into just what the director and writer Jamie Babbit (Popular) was trying to do and at least there would be a chance I could appreciate the film more.
If this subject sounds intriguing to you, then perhaps a rental would be in order. But for most people I can't even recommend that much. The film is awkward, not funny, and not serious enough. I appreciate the attempt to get into this topic, which I do believe merits real discussion and a realignment of society with regards to how we perceive and treat gay people. Unfortunately this film will not spur such discussion or questioning.
The film is convicted for being as conflicted about what it is as the teenagers it tries to represent. The ultimate punishment is for being a comedy that isn't funny. Universal is acquitted based on past performance but I'm not exactly enthused with the lack of extra content here either.
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Scales of Justice
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (English)
Running Time: 86 Minutes
Release Year: 1999
MPAA Rating: Rated R