A plea for tolerance which embraces the need for self-expression, and the idiocy of denying it, this is a comic canter through the young life of Megan who, because she likes tofu and has a picture of a girl in her locker, is deemed by her parents to be gay. Believing that the straight and narrow can be learned, they deposit her at True Directions, a camp where homosexual people are converted to heterosexuality by the 'treatment director' (Cathy Moriarty). She believes, by the way, in teaching the girls hoovering and the boys car mechanics. There are, amazingly, over 200 camps of this ilk in the States, and debut director Jamie Babbit took her cue from reading about them.
As with all the best satires, the chuckles never bury the essence of what is being spoofed, and even the more stylised interludes highlight the narrowness and foolishness of mainstream America. A case in point is the moment when Megan comes home from school, only to be grilled by her family and friends, and both the serious critique and comic impact are lifted by exaggerated camera angles and weird music-box style music. There is also a clutch of ongoing gags, including (as his t-shirt proclaims) the 'straight is great' teacher who is himself secretly in the grip of gay lust.
The only real flaw is a lengthy mid-section which, in her enthusiasm for satirical set-ups, the director packs with far too many examples of individual sexualities and life at camp. They do pull the film away from the plot. However, "But I'm a Cheerleader" is, on the whole, a sharp, intelligent outing (now there's something the conversion camp would frown on) bolstered by both Natasha Lyonne and Clea DuVall who communicate their conflicts and turmoil (and eventual joy) with low-key power, and through whom a credible love story begins to build.
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