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[whitespace] Natasha Lyonne, Clea DuVall
Photograph by Mark Lipson

Getting Directions: Natasha Lyonne (right) and Clea DuVall get pointed all over the place in 'But I'm a Cheerleader.'

Girls' Camp

Adults try to scare Natasha Lyonne straight in 'But I'm a Cheerleader'

By Richard von Busack

NATASHA LYONNE'S big eyes are used to great comic effect in But I'm a Cheerleader. Lyonne represents something rare these Puritan days: an erotic comedian. The fact that she's underaged makes her comedy all the more unsettling. Not many actresses would put themselves out the way Lyonne does here and as she did in Slums of Beverly Hills. Sexy isn't the word; "bold" is more like it. Lyonne plays the autoerotic act for helpless goofiness, and I expect that's why she isn't everyone's cup of tea. Her sex scenes display clumsiness and mixed feelings, and that's rare too. The failure of But I'm a Cheerleader isn't her fault.

Lyonne plays a suburban cheerleader named Megan, who thinks she's straight. In one dire make-out session, a clumsy boyfriend tries to force his entire tongue into her mouth. When Megan comes home one day, she's caught in a heterosexualist intervention by her concerned parents and friends, who suspect her of being a lesbian in denial. Her parents--Bud Cort of Harold and Maude, and John Waters regular Mink Stole, who looks like Shirley Jones after a very bad night--ship Megan off to True Directions, a summer boarding school where she'll have her inversion nipped in the bud. There, boys are stashed in blue barracks and girls in pink; girls are taught to be housewives and boys to repair cars.

These kind of schools do exist, the recourse of people who are very rich and not very smart. In the old days, when homosexuality was illegal, prison sentences were sometimes handed down to gay men, occasioning Lenny Bruce's remark "I like what they do to homosexuals in this country--throw 'em in jail with a lot of men." You can see the problem with that kind of treatment, as punishment or therapy. The problem with this film, however, is that director Jamie Babbit, a veteran of TV's Popular, apparently didn't do any research about what the real life True Directions would be like. True Directions isn't a religious retreat, nor is it the kind of institution that uses psychological language to explain why gay kids would be happier straight. The easygoing, inviting--not to say deluded--arguments that many ex-gay ministers use contrast with the pink palace director Babbit has built. In real life, they show a lot more velvet glove than iron fist. In clownishly lampooning some freedom-fearing people, Babbit and first-time screenwriter Brian Wayne Peterson overshoot their mark.

As Megan's chum Graham, Clea DuVall is tart and tough; Du Vall looks like Ally Sheedy did before she got the makeover at the end of The Breakfast Club. Julie Delpy glides through in an almost mute cameo at a gay bar scene, and RuPaul, out of costume, plays one of the men on the campus. All these actors, including Lyonne and the usually reliable Cathy Moriarty (as True Direction's commandant) can't liven up this film. But I'm a Cheerleader practically dislocates its shoulder patting itself on the back.

But I'm a Cheerleader (R; 81 min.), directed by Jamie Babbit, written by Brian Wayne Petersen, photographed by Jules Lebarthe and starring Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall, opens Friday at the Century Cinema 16 in Mountain View and at the Towne Theater in San Jose.

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From the July 13-19, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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