How does one make a good film about bad taste? John Waters managed
it for years with such classics as
and my all time favourite Waters
has all the calling
cards of a Waters film: the pastiche, the humour, the melodrama,
but tends also towards the slapstick and gross-out humour that
is so popular in the teen film market. It is perfectly placed
as a great film homage, but stands a little shakily on its own
was a festival
favourite first time around (first time I saw the film was a rough
cut that had completely different music). After a re-edit it managed
to snag a distributor and achieved worldwide noteriety, riding
somewhat on the back of Natasha Lyonne's appearances in the hit
series and Clea Duvall's
important turn as a compulsive liar in Apart from anything else, Lyonne and Duvall
have great chemistry, even in their promo material.
Megan (Lyonne) is an all-American perfect girl. She's a cheerleader,
dates the captain of the football team and has the life that any
teenage girl dreams of. But Megan also has pictures of girls in
her locker, a poster of Melissa Etheridge on her wall and is a
vegetarian—all of which add up to only one conclusion. Megan
is gay! Or at least her family and friends think so, which leads
to an intervention and enrolment in "True Directions",
a homo-rehab camp designed to reinforce gender roles and produce
good, straight members of society.
"True Directions" is camp in every sense of the word.
Camp Director Mary J Brown (Cathy Moriarity) sets the flamboyant
tone from her first scenes and her performance never lets up.
She's accompanied by RuPaul - out of drag but still SO gay - as
assistant camp director Mike who is nothing short of obsessed
with the gay sex he isn't having. The buildings are painted in
bright pink and blue, as are the costumes the participants are
required to wear, and the whole thing has the feel of a cartoon.
In a way, the characters have that two-dimensional feel of cartoons
Megan arrives to meet her fellow campers, which includes Graham
(the gorgeous Clea Duvall), a street-smart dyke who just wants
to endure the camp, go to college and continue her silver-spoon
existence being a lesbian right under her unsuspecting parents'
noses. Needless to say, all "True Directions" does for
Megan is open up her true path in life, and when she falls in
love with Graham it changes everything.
While the leads are excellent in their roles, some of the supporting
characters really do their best to steal this movie from under
them. New Zealander Melanie Lynskey, after nearly snatching
from Drew Barrymore, pulls off her scenes here with
a delightful smugness that just makes you want to cheer for and
strangle her at the same time. Katharine Towne is a scream as
Sinead, the goth-wannabe with a serious crush on Graham and an
overly-fond attitude towards her electroshock therapy. Eddie Cibrian,
so macho as a firefighter on
is almost too convincing as Mary Brown's gay son Rock. His character
was written as a walking cliché and he pulled everything
he could (ahem) out of the role. Watch also for a priceless cameo
from eighties teen princess Ione Skye ( ).
The film doesn't play everything for laughs. The sex scene between
Graham and Megan is surprisingly tender and I actually found the
interactions between the "True Directions" inmates and
their parents quite harrowing at times, particular Graham's dealings
with her angry, rich father who threatens to cut off her entire
future if she doesn't "get this gay thing out or her system".
Having all this play against the disturbingly colourful backgrounds
gets rather surreal. You get a sense at times of a one-laugh joke
having been carried too far, but then the film manages to right
itself and continue on its merry way.
It's all very heartwarming, but at times a little empty and awkward,
like the film has so many messages and doesn't know which ones
it really wants to deliver. The ones that get through are perfectly
fine, but I don't think involving the parents and trying to ram
home that all straight people hate homosexuals and want them to
get over it really did the film any favours. These moments propelled
the film from satire into unsuccessful social commentary. The
last-ditch attempt to dispel this illusion with Megan's parents
attending the PFLAG meeting scene just feels tacked on and doesn't
do anything to help.
However hilarious, there is a militant "us against them"
undertone to the movie that feels a little troubling by the end.
The entire "life re-enactment" of straight sex was nothing
short of icky. A little more common ground found between gay and
straight might have been nice. Instead of the feeling that Megan
and Graham are being forced to run away from the world to be in
love, wouldn't it have been nice to have their reward for being
brave be that unbeknownst to them they are actually running towards
the world where it is possible to find a place of tolerance and
That is however just a minor, possibly over-intellectualised
quibble with a film whose enjoyment factor is so high. For a fun
night in with popcorn, But I'm a Cheerleader
is difficult to beat. For camp hilarity, watch it perhaps in conjunction
with Moriarty's or the film
version of .
be original, maybe break the ice and watch it with your friends
and family just before you tell them you're gay?
Got a comment? Write to me at email@example.com