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Review: But I’m a Cheerleader

But I’m a Cheerleader is the epitome of camp.

I’m not just talking about the film’s depiction of homosexuality, by the way. Yes, it is true that a few of the characters behave in a stereotypically "fabulous" manner for comedic purposes… but the portrayal of “traditional (i.e., heteronormative) family values" is equally exaggerated. The story is set in a nightmarish parody of upper middle class suburbia reminiscent of a Norman Rockwell painting gone awry, featuring a grotesquely vibrant visual style that owes an obvious debt to John Waters and Tim Burton (circa Edward Scissorhands and Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, not whatever the hell he’s doing nowadays).

The deliberate artificiality of the imagery (replete with plastic furniture and boasting a garish pastel color palette) perfectly complements the story’s satirical tone. Director Jamie Babbit treats the casual bigotry of conservative America the same way that Mel Brooks treated Nazism in The Producers: as a self-evident joke, inherently unworthy of respect. There is, of course, a degree of risk involved in this irreverent approach. Comphet, internalized misogyny, and conversion therapy are sensitive subjects, to say the least; exploring them through the lens of an absurdist fairytale could therefore potentially be considered disrespectful.

Personally, though, I believe that But I’m a Cheerleader executes its premise with remarkable grace and tact. While harsh reality occasionally intrudes upon the narrative’s theme park logic (such as when the protagonist is caught completely off guard by her mother’s nonchalant threat to disown her should she fail to “go straight”), Babbit prefers to keep the atmosphere fun and lighthearted, thus avoiding the “gay misery” tropes that tend to pervade queer cinema. Ultimately, the movie emphasizes the positive aspects of coming out, celebrating the joys of individuality, nonconformity, and self-actualization.

I’m certain that nobody could possibly object to such universal, uncontroversial themes.

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