Torrance Shipman is not just a cheerleader. She's a full-fledged citizen of a cheer-world. A place where your execution of a basket toss can make you or break you, where your "spirit fingers" can propel you to fabulous heights of cheering ecstasy, and where just being perky goes a long, long way.
Torrance, played by Kirsten Dunst, whom you'll remember from Interview with the Vampire and Jumanji, goes to Rancho Carne in San Diego, and is about to begin her senior year as the new captain of the fabled Toros, five-time cheerleading national champions. It looks like a walk in the park to a sixth title until an injury forces the team to take up a new member. Enter Missy, played by Eliza Dushku. She's the new girl, a frustrated gymnast transferring to school with no gymnastics program. Cheerleading is her last resort and she is clearly not happy about it. Missy is our door into this strange cheer world. She doesn't understand it anymore than we do, but as she comes to accept it and even, finally, embrace it, so does the audience.
Also in attendance is the underprivileged, inner-city team, whose captain, played well by Gabrielle Union, seethes with indignance. I wish there could have been a little more of her and her team, the Clovers. Typically, this is who the movie would have been about, and the Toros would have simply been the spoiled, privileged villains. That movie has, however, been done to death, and I think the filmmakers were smart to take a different point of view on this fairly standard story. By making the Toros the heroes, they are able to make the movie funny without placing too much "will they succeed and have a chance at a better life?"pressure on the outcome.
The world of Rancho Carne (clever) High School bears very little resemblance to anything I remember from high school, but I guess that's not too surprising. This isn't a real high school, this is Hollywood High. Every once in a while, filmmakers like to take a typical high school experience (usually football or basketball) and show us how that activity plays out at Hollywood High, where the good kids are better, the bad kids are more devious, and everyone has the perfect comeback. If you saw Clueless, or Varsity Blues, or almost any episode of 90210, you've been introduced to the characters and know the basic story. Rarely, however, has that story been so much fun to watch.
I know what you're thinking. "Oh, a movie about a bunch of girls in short skirts dancing around. No wonder he liked it." Ok, I admit it. There was very little other reason that I wanted to go see this movie. My wife has been trying to get me to see that ballroom dancing movie for years without success, and I'm sure it has the exact same plot. This movie, however, has an advantage: cheerleaders. Let me say up front that there are plenty of girls dancing around in short skirts, so if that's why you go, you won't be disappointed, but there is much more.
For one, Bring It On is really funny. The cheerleading tryout scene is classic. The script is sharp, and the dialogue is hilarious. Team captain Torrance declares to a rebellious team member, "This isn't a democracy. This is a cheerocracy!" This is the world according to cheer.
There are power struggles, attempted coups, and even cheerleader urban legends. But the real star of the movie is the cheerleading scenes themselves. Don't expect the cheering you saw in high school. This is cheering for the sake of cheer itself. Indeed, the cheerleaders consider the games they cheer at just practice for the real show; the cheerleading competition. Gone is the "Rah Rah, Sis Boom Bah" of the past. This cheerleading is a combination of gymnastics and different dance styles choreographed to a tee. The routines are really incredible and the music gets that beat going and you can't help but get into it. I suspect that after this movie, a lot of girls will want to become cheerleaders, and that's a good thing. There is a good message about believing in yourself and working hard that can never be overstated, and if you, like Missy, walk into this movie thinking that cheerleading is just for airheads and bimbos, I would be willing to bet that you walk out with a completely new cheer-view.
Bring it On is rated PG-13 for language and a few suggestive scenes. Grade: B+
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