Wednesday, June 7, 2017

But I'm a Cheerleader

It's June once again, which is Gay Pride Month, and like last year I thought I'd take a look at some more great LGBT themed films. Now, with the controversial election of Donald Trump and Mike Pence, the subject of Gay Conversion therapy has hit the news in a big way over the last few months as it is something that has been documented that the Vice President approves of. This inspired me to kick off this year with a movie that takes a satirical look at such a practice, showing through absurd humor how such a process could never actually work. 

Megan (played by Natasha Lyonne) thinks she's an average, American teenager. She's a cheerleader dating a football player. But there is something off about her. One day after school, she comes home to an intervention with her parents (played by Bud Cort and Mink Stole), her best friend (played by Michelle Williams) and a representative from a support center called True Directions, Mike (played by RuPaul Charles). They explain they think she's a lesbian and want to send her to the True Directions camp to get her straightened out. She insists she's not, because she's dating a guy and she's a cheerleader. Nonetheless, she's packed off to camp where she is joined by several others in their quest to become straight, heterosexuals. Once there, they go through the steps of the program, led by camp director Mary Brown (played by Cathy Moriarty), that are set up to re-affirm traditional gender roles, such as women doing the housework and men doing butch, manly tasks. Each is color coded in either bright blue or pink as are the clothes the boys and girls wear. Another part of the therapy is to try and find the root of why they went gay. Soon, Megan comes to terms with her true sexuality and not only that begins to develop feelings for another camp mate, Graham (played by Clea Duvall), who is hesitant to reciprocate because if she gets caught and thrown out of camp she'll be disowned by her parents.

The film was directed by Jamie Babbit and written by Brian Wayne Peterson and together taken an sharply satirical look at so-called conversion therapy programs that claim to cure people of their heterosexuality. The film shows, in many ways that this is not possible. Mary's supposedly cured son Rock (played by Eddie Cibrian) spends much of his time in the film trying to entice Mike, who insists he's an ex-gay, with various suggestive exploits and Mike's reactions show he can just barely resist. The film also introduces a pair of ex-ex gays, Larry and Lloyd (played by Richard Moll and Wesley Mann), who covertly infiltrate the camp to provide an alternative to the kids, letting them know it's okay to be gay and also provide refuge to kids kicked out of the camp when they're unable to "kick the gay habit." The film also showcases some of the actual treatment methods used in these so-called conversion therapy retreats and when cast with the absurdist humor of the film makes these "therapy" methods seem equally ridiculous. 

The film has a great cast, anchored by Natasha Lyonne and Clea Duvall. Natasha Lyonne really shines in a great comedic role as a girl who is initially devastated to discover that she is gay, but then over the course of the film comes to accept it and as her relationship with Graham grows, even embrace it. Clea Duvall is likewise great as Graham, playing a girl who knows what her truth is but feels obligated to go through the program anyway to appease her parents and is probably afraid to be cut off from them. Cathy Moriarty is a hoot in the film as a woman completely devoted to her convictions in trying to "cure" these kids and gives an wonderfully over the top performance as only Cathy Moriarty can. The film also has a rare out of drag appearance by RuPaul Charles as one of the counselors who works with the male patients and has a lot of fun with his role as well.

But I'm a Cheerleader is a film that feels as relevant now as it did when it came out in 1999. Granted, gay conversion therapy has largely been debunked and is even now illegal in some states. But when you have a sitting Vice President who still believes in it, it's not as much of a thing of the past as we'd like to think. And sometimes it takes some savage humor to really show the truth of some things.    

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