“But I’m a Cheerleader” is a film so enamored of its own premise that it never bothers to do anything with it, like a “Saturday Night Live” sketch with a clever joke that’s ruined by the fact that it goes on forever.
The funny premise at issue is this: Ordinary suburban high-schooler Megan (Natasha Lyonne) is suspected by her parents and friends of being a lesbian, due to her vegetarianism and penchant for putting Melissa Ethridge posters on her bedroom walls. So they ship her off to “True Directions,” a rehabilitation camp for young homosexuals, male and female, run by strict matriarch Mary (Cathy Moriarty), who seems to have started the camp because she’s in denial over her own extremely gay son, Rock (Eddie Cibrian).
The thing is, Megan’s not gay. At least, she never thought she was before. At the camp, working through a five-step program (admit your problem, identify the cause, etc.), she begins to realize that sure enough, they’re right! She IS a lesbian! And she doesn’t particularly want to be “cured” of it, either.
That’s the big joke, of course, that “True Directions” is more likely to be counterproductive than rehabilitative — as well is should be, since the idea of “curing” homosexuals is archaic and narrow-minded. (Well, that’s what the movie believes, and it assumes we agree with that stance. Those who disagree are not likely to be won over by the film’s so-called “satire,” which is too sloppy and ham-fisted to be effective.)
After the jokes about would-be reformers surreptitiously winking at each other grow tedious, the film moves on to become a tedious lesbian love story, between Megan and trouble-maker Graham (Clea DuVall). For two-thirds of the film, director Jamie Babbit uses straight-ahead camera angles, squarely framing everything like a comic strip, and backing up that idea with basic colors and broad acting. Then, when the romance begins, it turns into a more serious film. This is a bad idea. Even though the premise was indeed getting very, very old, abandoning it midstream and going for something more Sundance-y doesn’t help. It just makes it look like Babbit and screenwriter Brian Wayne Peterson lost faith in their own story.
There are some laughs here, but not many. Casting famed transvestite RuPaul Charles as a cured homosexual who is now a camp counselor (heavy on the “camp”) is amusing, as is one girl’s explanation for what made her gay: “I was born in France.” Aside from that, the hope seems to be that we will keep laughing at the skewering of gay stereotypes and ultra-conservative homophobia. That hope is in vain. This is a topic ripe for parody, but “Cheerleader” is not the film to execute it.
C- (; )