In one of those nuggets of common-sense that masquerades as meaningful advice, it’s often advised that when you are trying to connect with someone, the best way is to find common ground. Obviously, sometimes it works, and sometimes it backfires in humorous ways. In “Bring It On,” a movie in which the climax is a national cheerleading competition, perky head cheerleader Kirsten Dunst attempts to bond with Jesse Bradford, the new kid in her high school by asking him if the band on his shirt is his. “The Clash?” he responds surprised but still game, “Afraid not.” Luckily, things go better after she meets Jesse’s sister, Eliza Dushku, who has recently auditioned for the cheerleading squad, and things improve from there. “Bring It On,” one of the few Hollywood teen movies in which the football team begins as lousy and does not get significantly better with the help of an inspirational coach, features guys competing but mostly as backdrops tossing up their female squad-mates into the air as they perform flips that defy gravity. The movie, which spawned several direct-to-video sequels, also features a romance, several moral dilemmas, and plenty of amusing one-liners.
The movie kicks off at the start of a new school year when Kirsten has successfully completed cheerleading camp and is poised to take over as head of the squad from “Big Red,” (Lindsay Sloane), but when another girl injures herself, she’s forced to hold auditions. At first, things don’t look promising – as candidate after candidate appears untalented, unmotivated or plain confused (“These aren’t the auditions for ‘Pippin’?” one poor guy asks.). However, with the arrival of snarky Eliza, who is gifted but also skeptical as to why she should be wasting time bouncing and chanting, the squad has found their linchpin. Unfortunately, more trouble flares when Eliza claims she has seen their brand new routines before. Sure enough, it turns out that Lindsay has been filching routines from an inner-city high school led by Gabrielle Union, and when Kirsten investigates, she learns that they are aware of this and not terribly happy. Of course, Kirsten is devastated at this news. As she puts it in no uncertain terms, “My entire cheerleading career has been a lie!” Still after an emergency meeting, Kirsten’s team decides to do the right thing, scrap their original routine, and hire a coach (Ian Roberts) to help out. Also, upon learning that Gabrielle’s team may not be able to travel to nationals due to financial issues, she tries to help – which has an unexpected twist – but the end result has both teams competing in an exciting finale.
Besides teen movies, cheerleading has also found a place in pop culture with the eighties’ one hit wonder, “Mickey” by Toni Basil, herself a former high school cheerleader. And while cheerleaders usually appear in Hollywood movies as mean-spirited, dim and shallow, if not plain evil, “Bring It On,” offers a more positive portrayal. Sure some of these girls have a catty streak, but they are also shown to be hard-working, driven and willing to do the right thing even if it takes awhile. They may be perky, but they’re hardly air-heads and are secure in their place in the high school hierarchy. “It’s kind of mean to cheer for them,” one explains about the school’s football team, but the viewer should have no problem doing so for the main characters here.