Welcome to our moon-synced movie review show, hosted by Saira Barbaric and NEVE. This duo of South Seattle creatives make multidisciplinary work together and individually. For this show, they’re ecstatic to join their love of astrology, ritual, and pop culture.
Stream this month’s podcast at the New Moon Movie Review official podcast website.
Whenever I watch But I’m a Cheerleader, I viscerally experience being a teenager again — all of the yearning and shame; the sparkle ache of finding out what you like and wondering if you’re likable; the desire to fit in any box you can. But I’m a Cheerleader is a 1999 romantic satire directed by Jamie Babbit and starring Natasha Lyonne. Long before she was serving up iconic performances in shows like Orange is the New Black and Russian Doll, she was baby-facing it in a gay cult classic. In the film, Natasha plays high school student Megan who really loves cheerleading and really doesn’t love making out with her boyfriend. Due to this, the fact that she’s a vegetarian and enjoys Georgia O’Keefe paintings, she is subject to an intervention from her family and friends, who tell her she’s a lesbian and cart her off to gay conversion camp. Now, it would be very easy for this to not be a funny storyline. The Miseducation of Cameron Post, another movie I like, tells a similar story, while leaning more on drama and pathos. They/Them, a movie so terrible I almost regret mentioning it, is also set at a gay conversion camp and is supposedly a satire. It is not funny. But I’m a Cheerleader is very funny, and this is because it commits to the height of its camp, allowing things to be so absurd that they are grotesque, balanced with a disarming sincerity where a character’s feelings are concerned.
The camp is acutely divided — pink spaces for girls and blue for boys. Mary (Cathy Moriarty) heads up the education of the future straight young women, and Mike (Ru Paul) teaches the future straight young men. It’s clear that they are both very gay and maybe a little gender weird, and this is delightful. Megan — played by Lyonne — is oriented by Hilary (my girl Melanie Lynskey), who both reinforces the rules and seems tantalized by merely being a gay person near another gay person. Once Megan has her revelation in group therapy that she is in fact a homosexual (in this scene she cries so hard that she drools and just says, “I’m a homo.” It’s so relatable.), she embarks on her new education with gusto, excited to reinforce gender roles and learn how to deny her urges. But what does every romantic comedy have? A meet-cute. This movie’s love wrench to throw in your gears is the jaded yet privileged bad girl Graham (Clea DuVall). Pretty immediately, sparks begin to fly. Will they be brave enough to choose themselves and each other? Will they succumb to societal and familial pressure to complete the program and graduate as proud new heterosexuals? Despite the hilarious way the matter is presented, the stakes feel high.
The gender binary in But I’m a Cheerleader is clearly drag, in all its pink and blue cotton candy horror. The absurdity of stereotypes is on display. As we note in this moon’s episode, there is a missed opportunity here to expand the audience’s ideas about gender and to differentiate between gender and sexuality. That makes sense for a queer comedy that came out in 1999. What the movie does well is convey the resilience of real love in a fake world. As a 16-year-old watching it, I felt validated by how natural Megan and Graham’s attraction to one another seemed in contrast to the clownishness of the heterosexual reeducation program they were stuck in. It gave me hope. One of the doctrines of the camp that Mary emphasizes is that each participant has a root cause for their gayness. This is referred to as “my root” in group therapy, and it ranges from “my mother got married in pants” to “I was born in France.” Of course, there are not root causes of gayness, but rather, root moments when you noticed you were gay. One of my roots is definitely But I’m a Cheerleader. It kinda made me want to be a cheerleader.
You will like this movie if you appreciate a campy comedy, if you are a queer cinephile who has to see all cultural touchstones, if you love any or all of the actors I listed (not to mention Mink Stole and Dante Basco!), and if you enjoy a tightly curated soundtrack. You won’t like this movie if you are homophobic, or if you are not into a campy comedy. Check out the podcast to hear Saira and me talk about But I’m a Cheerleader in depth and to find out what I mean when I say, “lesbian water ballet.”
NEVE (they/(s)he) is a multigender, multiracial, multiply Disabled, multidimensional, multidisciplinary terpsichorean artist of the stage, street, field, stream, and screen. They are an Indigenous African living in Duwamish and Coast Salish lands and traveling wherever they have access and an invitation. (S)He is a 2020 Pina Bausch Fellow and a 2022 Arc Artist Fellow. Visit them online at nevebebad.com and beyond.
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