Every generation has their set of coming of age movies, films about characters that ring true and which speak to certain people in very profound ways, and for some out there, “Cheerleader” could be one of those movies. A coming of age type of story about a young girl trying to figure out her own way, this is a confidently made movie which dares to be great at times, almost like a 2016 version of “Heathers” but with the emotional truths of the best of John Hughes.
Mickey (Catherine Blades) obviously has a need to be wanted and desired and cared for, so when she doesn’t get this from home and barely gets this feeling from her friends, she turns to guys to find someone to want her. When one of these guys breaks up with her, she concocts a plan to make this fella jealous by hooking up with a totally different guy. Classic petty high school stuff. She sets her eyes on a stereotypical 80s nerd named Buttons (Chris Bert), they go on a date, and wouldn’t you know it, things get emotionally complicated for the young and naive Mickey.
Mickey is an interesting character because she is so openly honest. Someone even points out to her that she has no filter between her brain and her mouth, and its true, she usually just says what she’s thinking, and often times those thoughts tell a lot about her and how she sees the world and her place in it. She starts off as just the pretty cheerleader who likes to make out in cars and hang out with her specific group of friends, but either through talking to others and her narration to the audience, she reveals insecurities, doubts and regrets that convey a richer and more interesting inner life than one would initially and incorrectly suspect. She makes some choices that cause her to rethink what she’s doing and why, and it is all believable because it just feels right.
“Cheerleader” is also a stylistically interesting movie, if a little schizophrenic at times visually. There are some nice cleanly composed shots and sequences, and even a couple of very mature shot transitions, which shows that writer/director Irving Franco definitely has some ambition, seeking to be do more than just point and shoot, and this makes for some great looking scenes for sure. Being a first time filmmaker, this shows that there is a lot of potential here for some exciting work in the future, there is just a need to take some of the obvious and disparate influences at work here and turn them into something more visually cohesive from beginning to end.
At just seventy minutes, “Cheerleader” definitely could have been longer, and Buttons is the character that would have benefited the most from this extra time. Chris Bert does a great job with the role, as he brings kind of a Crispin Glover in “Back to the Future” kind of vibe to it, but on paper Buttons is quite rote, just a couple steps above “plot device” really. The scenes with Mickey and Buttons were all great, and knowing even just a little more about him would have made their whole deal that much more satisfying. Then again, perhaps there is something to the idea of leaving them wanting more.