Pretty and popular Megan (Natasha Lyonne) tromps through what she assumes is the life of a normal high school teen, while her parents secretly pray for her over dinner and plot an intervention with her friends. Quicker than you can say, "Two, four, six, eight. God is good. God is straight," the group, assisted by "ex-gay" Mike (played wonderfully by a butch RuPaul Charles in a "Straight Is Great" T-shirt), confronts Megan with the evidence of her burgeoning lesbianism: her affinity for tofu, the Melissa Etheridge poster she owns, her dislike of her football-player boyfriend's sloppy-tongued kisses. A dumbfounded Megan is then carted off to True Directions, a "rehabilitation" camp, by her parents (Bud Cort and Mink Stole), where they are assured by headmistress Mary (Cathy Moriarty) that their daughter can be straightened out. Thus begins director Jamie Babbit's first feature, But I'm a Cheerleader. And it's promising.
Everything about True Directions, from its flamingo-pink corral, to the garden flowers (plastic), to its simplistic five-step program, is blatantly fake. Except, of course, its assorted group of adolescent residents, whose homophobic parents have sent them here. But Mary is working on them, too. "It's a long path to righteousness," she instructs. Rippling through this smug veneer, however, where girls in pink dresses practice vacuuming and boys in powder-blue shorts learn to chop wood, is one toxic stream of dogma, not to mention a continuous current of desire.
During her next six months at True Directions, Megan learns to admit she's a homosexual (the first step in the five-step program), attends family therapy to discover what caused her homosexuality (step three), slow-dances with the stunning Julie Delpy at a bar called the Cocksucker (not part of the program), has as memorable an affair as you can have in a shared dorm room with the rebellious Graham (Clea DuVall), and learns the true meaning of being a cheerleader.
But I'm a Cheerleader
Regal South Beach Cinema, 1100 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-674-6766.
Playing 7:00 p.m. Friday, April 14.
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But I'm a Cheerleader has some truly funny lines and moments; its attention to detail and style is enjoyable, and it is a decent, smart satire. It admirably, if unevenly, chastises hate and intolerance (of our own children no less) by blowing up to cartoonlike proportions the stereotypes about same-sex attraction on which this ignorance is based. That said, it is missing the audacity and the impeccable bad taste of a John Waters film (the director who is said to have inspired this work). When the story allows its potentially candid premise to take a back seat to the love story between Megan and Graham, its resolve and sharpness seem to fade where it could in fact explode. Ultimately satire gives way to sap, and what's supposed to be real seems a bit contrived. But it's still a sweet make-believe.