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Wednesday, Aug. 1, 2001
There's 'cheerleader angst'
By KAORI SHOJI
Thank you, O Lord. Such was my reaction after viewing "Bring It On," a bouncing-with-exuberance tale of high school cheerleaders. Hey, where are you going? Don't put down the paper just because you bumped into the word "cheerleaders." Honestly, it's not that bad.
In fact, it's a "tale of cheerleader angst" so . . . there you go, walking away again. Listen, sometimes it takes a movie like "Bring It On" to really appreciate adult life, life that has done with high school forever. Those times were hard, even for those of us who didn't have to wave pompoms, wear tight little sweaters, go out with the captain of the football team and smile for the entire length of our waking hours, ugh. But never mind, all that's far behind us. We're adults now. We can sit in front of a computer screen for the rest of our lives, blinking and eating doughnuts.
Which is why we can watch movies like this with delighted horror. "Bring It On" tells all about the rigors, hardships and dangers of cheerleading life, where good looks and good moves are mere prerequisites. Girls must also prove adept at backward flips, somersaults and cartwheels, all in the manner of Perfect 10 Olympic gymnasts, and must never mess up their hair in the process, never. They are fine-tuned and disciplined down to their fingertips. The only thing they can't do, apparently, is, well, study. But who cares?
Kirsten Dunst is the centerpiece, which strikes me as a jarring transition from her groundbreaking role as Lux in "Virgin Suicides." Lux was a mysterious bad girl who planned her death with true artistry and haunted at least five boys throughout their lives. How Dunst could have made the leap from the poetry of Lux to the planet of Torrence Shipman, head cheerleader at the Rancho Carne High School -- well, I suppose this is what they mean by diversity. Torrence lives and breathes (and probably eats) pompoms. She has cheerleading DNA stamped into her blood. When she's not yelling "One-two-three-four, we're not losing anymore!" or some such mantra, she's smiling.
Director Peyton Reed handpicked Dunst for the role, but the production notes say nothing about his own personal interests in cheerleading. Maybe some deep, dark incident in the past? In any case, he displays a fascination with this particular world that's contagious. Let's just say that unless you're in high school with a washboard stomach, "Bring It On" will turn you off popcorn and ice cream, at least for 90 minutes. One-two-three-four, we're not gaining anymore. Go team, yeah!
In fact, this movie makes clear that life on a cheerleading squad is like being at camp with Spartacus. It's all about grueling practices and acrobatic feats performed on zero calories. And nothing, not even love, is allowed to get in the way of true glory.
Torrence (Dunst) has just been chosen as the new leader of the Rancho Carne cheerleading squad, five-time winner of the National Cheerleading Championships. She welcomes the pressure and is sure she can bring the team another trophy. Her mother (Sheery Hursey), however, pulls a sour face. She wishes her daughter had more academic interests that would get her into college. Torrence strikes a deal -- she will remain head cheerleader but take "Advanced Chem" and earn more credits. It is in the Advanced Chem class, however, that she meets Cliff (Jesse Bradford), a cool dude from L.A. who writes music and generally shows himself aloof to the charms of cheerleaders. Torrence is attracted, but her mind is fixed on inducting Cliff's gymnast sister, Missy (Eliza Dushku), into the team as additional ammo toward winning the championship.
Missy is not your average cheer material, but she's skilled and shrewd. She sees right away that the Rancho Carne routine is a total ripoff from a downtown L.A. high school that's too poor to make an entry into the national tournaments. She confronts Torrence, who refuses to believe it. The routine was passed on from the former leader, and everyone had been practicing it for months. Then Missy drives her to the school and shows her the truth.
Torrence is shattered. Only a couple of weeks to come up with another routine! So she hires a professional choreographer called Sparky Polastri (Ian Roberts), who is a combination of sleaze and spartan. He immediately orders an emergency ban on all nutrition intake, jacks up the number of practice hours and turns everyone's lives into cheerleading hell. Torrence is mightily relieved. Missy is more skeptical and isn't surprised when it's revealed that Sparky has been peddling the same routine to a number of high schools in the same district. O angst! Torrence is ready to tear at her silky streaked blonde hair and scream out her woes (which she does with abandon).
Peyton displays a definite knack for two things: cheering on the cheerleaders with his tongue stashed way at the back of cheek, and showing the world that Dunst can get into another mode besides teenage ennui personified. At times, her smiley energy is such one begins to worry for her cheekbone muscles. Oh well, better her than the rest of us, huh?