Directed by Irving Franco Starring Catherine Blades, Chris Bert, Rachel Beyda Indie Film Review by Phil Slatter
Towards the end of American Pie 2, there is a scene in which hapless Jim (Jason Biggs) is trying to impress glamorous foreign exchange student Nadia (Shannon Elizabeth). As he recounts one of the many embarrassing stories that happened to him, he realises his true feelings actually lie with slightly-dorky band-geek Michelle (Alyson Hannigan). ‘I am a band geek’ he realises,’ I just never joined the band’, finally acknowledging his teenage social standing lies not with the popular girls but with an altogether different group.
The idea of wanting to be popular while at an age where you’re trying to figure out exactly who you are is an idea explored in many films and T.V. shows from the aforementioned American Pie series to John Hughes’ cult classic The Breakfast Club and the T.V. and film shows of The Inbetweeners. It also forms the central idea of Irving Franco’s slight but interesting indie film Cheerleader.
Set in a somewhat non-descript time and place where adults are largely absent, Mickey (Catherine Blades) is a high school cheerleader dating Josh (Michael Campayno) a key member of the school’s basketball team. The initial set-up reveals that Josh has cheated on Mickey and so she sets out to make him jealous. Initially, this struggles to draw you in as it’s somewhat rushed and understated considering the importance of the plot-point. This can however be attributed to the film’s indie aesthetic, as budget often makes it difficult for additional scenes to be shot to flesh out certain characters and engage the audience with any plot intricacies.
Mickey subsequently hooks up with Buttons (Chris Bert) a computer geek with whom Mickey would never normally associate. As you might expect though, Mickey starts to realise she has more in common with the nice but timid Buttons than with her own popular crew of fellow cheerleaders who spend their time making bitchy and snide comments about those whom they deem to be beneath them.
It doesn’t just become a case of who will Mickey choose but who should she really be hanging around with. In short, who is she? Blades plays the lead role well, with the right amount of naivety which is crucial in order for us to not feel too angry towards her when certain events of her making have negative consequences for others. Bert meanwhile is excellent in portraying a teenager who becomes the film’s most likable but put-upon character.
It’s clear where your sympathies will lie, but Cheerleader offers no easy resolutions and a downbeat, unpredictable ending that feels more true to life than your average high school film.
There are issues however. Some of the humour doesn’t quite work as well as is needed and the slight nature of the over-arching plot leaves you feeling somewhat short-changed. Mickey’s voiceover too, which feels like an online dating blog, is personable but remains a tool used largely for exposing the characters inner-turmoil and feelings. Show us, don’t spell it out.
Yet there is enough that does work and that suggests the filmmakers have talent that could be utilised with more funding. The relatively darker elements are most certainly a refreshing change in a film that asks familiar questions and doesn’t resort to clichéd, Hollywood answers.