Some films have all the ingredients for a cult hit and are sadly just let down by a poor script or bad directing – ‘Cheerleader’ is another casualty of that cause. The film starts off with a jumpy and enjoyable opening credits and a funny enough premise.
As things move to the ‘reform camp’ though they take a strange turn. It feels as though the filmmakers are trying to do a John Waters-esque comedy but only half succeed. At times the laughs and serious moments are played just right to emit a few chuckles, and those are usually thanks to some good performances from the cast.
At a lot of other times though there’s scenes in which gags seem to be happening but they’re just not funny – in fact it seems the filmmakers are actually agreeing with the ridiculous homophobic ideals of the types of camps they’re making fun of (eg. the campfire song scene) which makes audiences, no matter what orientation, feel awkward.
Moriarty steals the show as a ‘militantly moral mom’ who runs the camp, Clea Duvall seems thoroughly relaxed as the tomboy love interest and is therefore the best of the younger female performers. The rest of the girls do only so-so with Julie Delpy & Michelle Williams wasted in cameo roles, and Natasha Lyonne feeling quite wooden at times.
The guys do OK with an almost unrecognisable RuPaul doing well in the opening scenes, and Eddie Cibrian playing it up as Moriarty’s muscle-bound son. With some tweaks to the script, the first hour or so of the film would be a really good cult comedy – the last 20 minutes or so however prevent that from ever taking place though.
The laughs just vanish into an almost pure drama and while its watchable, there are times such as Lyonne’s “cheerleading” declaration of love that are cringe-inducingly contrived. It feels as though the filmmakers have taken the film’s third act and gutted half of it out.
The main love story is finished up in a very rushed way, whilst the various subplots (such as the other graduates, Mike & Rock’s underlying sexual tension, Julie Delpy, etc.) are just left to the wind. It’s both sad and painful to see elements of a good comedy go to waste. If only the real John Waters had done this, we’d have had another classic on our hands instead of this pale imitation.