Bring It On

(Peyton Reed, US, 2000)


There has always been a secret affinity between dance movies and sports movies – since both genres are about testing the body and putting it on public display in a competitive arena. Bring It On discovers the magic formula for bringing these genres together, by basing itself around a cheerleading contest.

Although a snobbish choreographer breezes through the film to inform us that “cheerleaders are dancers who have gone retarded”, Bring It On has no time for any high-culture definition of bodily achievement. The cheerleading routines showcased with much gusto are a generous combination of athletics, acrobatics, aerobics and virtually every dance fad of the previous two decades.

Torrance (Kirsten Dunst) has just been appointed the new leader of the Toros cheerleaders. Her self-confidence is smashed when the corresponding members of a black team, the Clovers, expose the Toros’ theft of their funky moves. This sets the scene for a potentially explosive culture war – an explosion that, for the most part, director Peyton Reed and writer Jessica Bendinger work hard to defuse.

Bring It On is an enjoyable teen movie, but it dawdles and distracts itself with safe subplots. Torrance’s best friend, Missy (Eliza Dishku), is introduced to the team as a feisty powerhouse, but soon becomes as bland as her colleagues. Similarly, the notes of cruelty and bitchiness that are sounded early on between various team members quickly disappear. Palest of all is Torrance’s supposedly cool love interest, Missy’s brother Cliff (Jesse Bradford).

It is difficult to become completely involved with this film. Reed hesitates fatally between making fun of these superficial people and trying to make us care about their problems. The casting of Dunst is at the centre of this uncertainty: she exhibits a splendid, cartoonish energy, but little of the warmth we associate with, for example, Reese Witherspoon.

There are internal signs that what may have started life as a vigorous, vulgar trash comedy was diluted into more conventional fare. Bring It On is a little disappointing but, when it arrives at the final cheerleading contest, it is hard not to be swept away by the amazing, musical spectacle of these youthful bodies in motion.

© Adrian Martin December 2000

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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