Thursday, January 31, 2008


I'm planning on writing a whole slew of blog entries on stuff I've seen in the past couple weeks, so I hope you'll forgive me if my memory is a bit fuzzy. I usually like to write about things immediately, but things don't always work out how you planned. How's that for profound?

Let's start off light. I'll commence with my cheerleading double feature - Bring It On (2000) and Sugar & Spice (2001). I didn't watch these anywhere near the vicinity of each other - I'm just condensing because it seems to make sense. Actually, I did see versions of both on the same weekend, but they were the uber-conservative, sterilized ABC Family versions. So, they don't count. However, watching these bland edits (ABC Family must think teens are morons) made me seek out the real movies. So, yay for them, I guess. Give me an A! A! Give me a B! B! Eh, you get the point. My pompoms aren't peppy enough to finish.

I saw Bring It On when it was out in theaters seven years ago, and I honestly loved it. I'm not sure I want to admit that, but so be it. I think I even saw it a few times. I really, really needed cheering up at that point in my life. So, I've thought of it fondly over all these years, and I've scoffed at each subsequently worse-looking sequel (I think the last one was called Bring It On: Milking the Hell Out of a Franchise). I think the only franchise that makes me cringe more is the American Pie Presents empire and all their shenanigans, and that's only because Eugene Levy has completely lost his dignity. To be fair, the original American Pie films were awesome (the first two, at least), much better than Bring It On. Anyway, my point is - I still really enjoyed Bring It On. It's a guilty pleasure, that's for sure. But after seeing Sugar & Spice, which is infinitely superior, my opinion of Bring It On was brought into perspective. I'll get into Sugar & Spice in a bit and how it sort of shut my mouth about Bring It On, but let me analyze Bring It On alone first.

Bring It On is a fun movie. I originally thought there was some smart commentary there about high school, but there really isn't. I think the filmmakers wanted there to be. The movie has a good heart. I like that the opposing cheerleaders (the Clovers) are black and trying to prove themselves in a white-dominated arena. It's a nice twist that the former captain stole all the Rancho Carne Toros' national championship-winning cheers from the black squad. Clovers' captain Isis (Gabrielle Union) is seeking revenge, and newly appointed Toros' captain Torrance (Kirsten Dunst) has to restore integrity to the school. I guess you could argue that everyone is a stereotype. Why are the black cheerleaders poor and from Compton? How come the white cheerleaders have to steal their "rhythm" from the black team? But then I rebut - why not? Isn't it better to bring attention to social discrepancies in simplistic terms rather than not doing it at all? Come on, they're trying! A for effort - woohoo!

Okay, this movie isn't changing the world, but it's harmless fun. It's not particularly biting or sassy, but it's got more of a brain than most teen movies. I think it ultimately has a good message, but telling you what that is would ruin the ending, and I wouldn't dream of doing that. Sure, it's pretty lame that Dunst's character, of the Rancho Carne TOROS, is named Torrance. There's also some atrocious dialogue. Case in point: "This is not a democracy - it's a cheerocracy." - "You are being a cheertator, Torrance, and a pain in my ass!" So, not quite literary brain food, but they're cheerleaders, what do you expect? Ouch, did I just go there? I think I did. I'm kidding. Honestly, I am! So, that's the most moronic dialogue in the whole movie. I have a really hard time stomaching those lines. The rest is trendy-tolerable.

I'm very hit or miss with Kirsten Dunst. I usually think she's hugely annoying. I've only really liked her in Marie Antoinette and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. But this is a user-friendly Kirsten Dunst movie. She's perfectly perky and very endearing. I like Jesse Bradford as her romantic interest, and Gabrielle Union is sassy greatness as the rival captain. I love Eliza Dushku as tough transfer student Missy. She's the best part of the movie, and that's not just my Buffy fanaticism talking (she's Faith, the kickass other slayer). I also love watching the cheers and routines. There's some pretty spectacular choreography here. You won't find me saying that cheerleading isn't challenging. The stuff on display here is impressive as hell. Overall, this movie is frothy goodness. It's just right for what it needs to be.

But if you want to watch a cheerleading movie that will actually cause your neurons to start firing, watch Sugar & Spice. Bring It On is really enjoyable, but that's it. It looks positively juvenile compared to Sugar & Spice. Is it fair to judge one by the other? Probably not. But I watched them close enough together that I have no choice BUT to compare. Sugar & Spice made me realize that frothy could also be satirical and clever. Sugar & Spice is deceptively frothy. It's all bubbly and fun, but it's seriously smart. I think this movie is a gem. I don't know why people don't like it (really bad IMDB rating) - it's their loss. It's about high school cheerleaders who decide to rob a bank when one of them gets pregnant. Not exactly bubble gum material. I think it totally subverts teen movie expectations.

The girls are interesting and intelligent. When Diane (Marley Shelton) gets pregnant (with school stud Jack, played by James Marsden), her close friends and fellow cheerleaders are so supportive that they agree to participate in a bank heist (Diane works in the bank branch of a supermarket). Oh yeah, and the main couple is Jack and Diane - isn't that cute? They watch movies to learn how NOT to screw up the robbery. From Reservoir Dogs, they get the idea of nicknames, and the girls can be best summed up (but not reduced by) their aliases.

Diane: Mood Swing Betty (They wear Betty doll masks for the robbery - it's rather adorable.)
Kansas (Mena Suvari): White Trash Betty
Cleo (Melissa George): Stalker Betty (the object of her desire: Conan O'Brien!)
Hannah (Rachel Blanchard): Virgin Betty (with optional horse and saddle)
Fern (Alexandra Holden): Terminator Betty (daughter of an exterminator/black market arms dealer)
Lucy: Richard Nixon (She opted out of the Betty plan, gave up her mask, and was left with Nixon come showtime.) - Lucy is the Harvard-bound brain.

I just loved this movie. The acting is flawless. Marley Shelton is radiantly sweet and funny (as she also is in Planet Terror), Mena Suvari successfully plays against type as a smart-mouth goth, Melissa George practically steals the movie as the Conan fanatic, Rachel Blanchard is hilarious as the super-Christian virgin (check out the TV version of Clueless - she plays Cher and is a hundred times better than Alicia Silverstone), Marla Sokoloff is delightfully bitchy as the B-squad cheerleader looking for her own glory, and James Mardsen plays the good-intentioned, empty-headed pretty boy to end all pretty boys (rivaled only by himself in Enchanted).

The dialogue is consistently witty. For instance, the girls all watch movies to take notes on how to commit a crime. Hannah comes back with her review:

Hannah: "And Tim Conoway was very funny. And they all learned a lot from the experience a..."
Kansas: "Wait a minute. You watched The Apple FUCKING Dumpling Gang?"
Hannah: "I'm only allowed to watch G movies."

Sugar & Spice is funny, surprising, and totally delicious. Like, wow, totally. See it! Any movie that utilizes Conan O'Brien as an aspiring stalker's target is pretty inspired. It's scathing and smart, whereas Bring It On, by comparison (and of its own accord), is pretty tepid and remedial. Yeah, it's fun, but why just have fun when you can have fun and think at the same time? Bring THAT on, Kirsten.

Bring It On: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Sugar & Spice: ****1/2 (out of 5)

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