I may sound like the Movie Grandmom here, but it is a darned shame that this smart and sassy movie has to include unnecessarily raunchy humor. Otherwise, this would be a terrific movie for kids, because it raises some important issues and it is a lot of fun.
Kirsten Dunst plays Torrence, whose whole life revolves around competitive cheerleading. She has just been elected captain of her squad, the five-time national champions, and it seems as though her senior year will be everything she dreamed of. But then one girl on the squad is out with a broken leg. And then real disaster strikes — it turns out that their award-winning routines were stolen from another squad, black cheerleaders who could not afford to go to the national competitions. Torrence has to face challenges of ethics and leadership and romance to sort all of this out before the nationals.
The movie strikes just the right note, respecting Torrence’s commitment and sportsmanship, but not taking any of it too seriously. The opening and closing cheers are the movie’s high point, the first one mocking the cheerleader ideal and the one that accompanies the closing credits to the classic 80’s “Mickey” song by Toni Basil. The issues of the white appropriation of black culture (going back at least to Elvis and Pat Boone) is an important one for kids to understand.
Parents should know, though, that while the behavior of the kids in the movie is mostly unobjectionable, the language and sexual references get pretty raunchy. It isn’t just the four-letter words that are typical these days in movies intended for a high school audience. But a boy jokes about slipping his finger in a girl’s underpants while he is holding her up during a cheer, and the insults are more vulgar than usual. Torrence’s little brother is practically demonic in his behavior. Parents should also know that Torrence’s boyfriend cheats on her (there is a girl in his bed). But Torrence and her new love have just one kiss (and, believe it or not, a very romantic tooth-brushing scene).
Families who see this movie should talk about the way that Torrence decides what is important to her and shows determination and commitment. At first, she tries a moral compromise in hiring a professional choreographer because “everybody does it,” but she knows it is wrong, and she is scrupulously honest and fair in her preparation for the nationals. She also handles the results with grace, and she believes in herself enough to break up with the boy who does not believe in her. Kids should also talk about the way that Missy and her brother Cliff support each other.
Families who enjoy this movie will also enjoy watching some of the real-life cheerleader competitions on ESPN. They are amazing!