a teenage girl raises pom poms in the air while surrounded by her cheer squad in a parking lot
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Don’t Talk to Irene, or: Failure in Drag

As much as I miss Horror Month on the blog, I love months when anything goes.  This explains how we shift gears completely from last week’s dark exploration of human nature to this week’s film about befriending maggots, cheerleading, and Geena Davis.

The Film:

Don’t Talk to Irene

The Premise:

In spite of her mother’s disapproval and bullying from her peers, teenager Irene dreams of being a cheerleader and gains an unexpected squad in the form of a group of retirement home residents.

The Ramble:

The ‘burbs of Toronto:  so close to the city yet so far.  Irene is a relentlessly positive teen living in the ‘burbs, determined to join the cheerleading squad.  So what if she wears plus size clothing, adopts maggots as pets, and holds conversations with the poster of Geena Davis above her bed?

a young woman standing in her room smiles, wearing a handsewn cheerleading costume

According to Irene’s mother, there’s a lot wrong with this picture.  Mom (who I don’t think is ever named?), a cheerleader until becoming a teen mom in high school, worries that Irene will be bullied or scorned by her peers.  Too late to worry on that front as Irene is well aware she’s considered a loser but seems to give zero fucks.

On the first day of school, Irene creates a DIY cheerleader outfit to try out for the team.  This doesn’t go unnoticed by new student Tesh, a fabulous dresser and the self-described Switzerland of gender.  They are completely on board with Irene challenging the status quo.

a young woman and a genderfluid person with a floppy hat stand in a record store

One person decidedly not on board with this is Sarah, a classmate who decides to humiliate Irene for the hell of it.  Convincing Irene and a few other naive girls that they must lick the shower of the boys’ locker room to make the squad, Sarah films the gross prank and posts it on social media.  Obviously when this goes public, the school principal is not amused and suspends Irene, Sarah, and her boyfriend.  During their time away from school, they will complete mandatory community service at the local retirement home.

Determined to make the best of things, Irene befriends several of the residents:  the sweet but forgetful Millie, curmudgeonly Charles, and suggestive Ruth.  When Irene hears about a reality show contest, she schemes to put together a cheer routine with a squad of her own making:  the residents and staff of the retirement home.  Initially Irene’s pet project, the residents quickly buy into the plan and look forward to learning their new moves.  And of course Sarah is there at every turn to sabotage Irene.

a teenage girl instructs a group of four dancers

As Irene faces setbacks, Geena Davis and her new friends teach her to be resilient.  Charles shows Irene how to respond to bullies and to throw a perfect punch.  Tesh, in on the plan too, utters perhaps my favorite line in cinema: “Success is just failure in drag.”

Closer to being part of the contest than ever, Sarah pulls out all the stops to prevent Irene from accomplishing her goals.  With the retirement home manager, Irene’s mother, and a flat tire to contend with, the squad has a lot to overcome.  Does this mark the end of Irene’s dream to defy the odds and become a cheerleader?

The Rating:

4/5 Pink Panther Heads

Let’s just say there are no shocking twists to this story–it’s a genuine, feel-good film that is precisely what I needed.  Irene is such a sweet character who doesn’t even seem to notice when others try to put her down.  I would really like to borrow some of Irene’s optimism and absolute indifference to horrible douchebags.

Some criticism:  Irene’s mom is a bit disappointing, and her inevitable change of heart feels a bit too little too late.  Though she claims everything she does is to protect Irene, she constantly fat shames her daughter and discourages her for most of the film.  Sarah’s antics get irritating as well; she’s often frustratingly one-dimensional.  I do admit I wish Irene had taken things a step further with some of her choices, but the entire point of her character is about staying positive and not holding onto insecurities.

However, so many of the other characters are so sweet I’d put them in my coffee (if coffee weren’t vile). For once all of the ’80s and ’90s nostalgia here seems authentic instead of hipster ironic.  I love that Geena Davis was part of this film.  And Milli Vanilli helps teach us a valuable lesson about being true to yourself.  What’s not to like?

Did my blog wife cheer this one on or consider it success in drag?  Find out by reading her review here!

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Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Girl Asleep, or: Donuts > Growing Up

This week’s film gives our feelings a break for once as we are transported to an oddly surreal dream world that may or may not be real, aka high school in 1970s Australia.

The Film:

Girl Asleep

The Premise:

A girl’s 15th birthday party goes from awkwardly cringey to bizarrely surreal when a magical music box opens to another realm.

The Ramble:

Greta has recently started at a new school and, rather than trying to make friends, seems to be trying her best to keep a low profile.  Her plan fails when she is approached by two separate groups:  first, Elliot (who is adorable and relatably enthusiastic about donuts), and then the stereotypical “cool” girls.  Both groups want to fold her into their embrace, but Greta seems afraid to speak up about who she’d rather be friends with (though I’d usually encourage girls to stick together…always pick the friendship that begins with donuts).

Life at home seems fairly harmonious at first, but almost immediately the cracks begin to show.  Greta’s father is constantly making terrible dad jokes and trying to stop his youngest child from growing up.  Her mother throws her attention on her daughters as she doesn’t seem to like her husband’s sense of humor–or anything about him as a matter of fact.  Greta’s older sister Genevieve throws the delicate balance off completely by coming home late with a really smooth boyfriend who smokes and tries to give off a bit of a James Dean vibe.

a man in a 1970s collared shirt with a moustache and large glasses stands in the doorway of a house
Have I mentioned that I love the ’70s aesthetic in this film?

After school, Greta invites Elliott over and shows him her favorite thing, a music box passed on to her from her mother.  She likes to imagine it’s from a secret realm.  Hmmmmmmm…I wonder if perhaps this plot detail will be important in about 20 minutes.

Greta lives in fear of being the center of attention, so imagine her horror when her mother suggests throwing a big party for her birthday and inviting everyone at school.  The party causes a major fight between her parents, so Greta eventually agrees to have the party to keep the peace.

When the dreaded day of the party arrives, her mother gives her a dress that is very cute but so not her style, and she’s deeply uncomfortable when others tell her she looks so beautiful and grown up.

a teenage girl in a pink dress looks worriedly off camera
I deeply understand this pre-party face.

As the party guests arrive, things begin to get slightly surreal with a pretty nice disco sequence.  The party doesn’t seem to be the nightmare Greta imagined it would be.  However, the cool girls arrive—two of whom are creepy twins who never say anything.  Their gift for Greta is a cassette tape that plays a really mean song about her…which feels like a somewhat sociopathic move, honestly.

Humiliated, Greta retreats to her room.  Her only real friend, Elliott, comforts her and also says he’d like to be more than friends.  This is remarkably bad timing, which causes Greta to freak out and push him away, calling him a homo (not cool, Greta).  Elliot is deeply offended that she considers this an insult in a way that I really appreciate.

To comfort herself, Greta opens up the music box, which seems to gain a life of its own and shocks her.  When she wakes up, there’s a thing from the other realm there that has claimed the music box.  It runs away into the woods (of course), and Greta gives chase.

creatures peer out from behind trees in a dark forest
Come play with us…

Possibly not shockingly, things get really surreal from here on out.  A woman who lives in the forest helps Greta navigate the woods and steer clear of the scary dog thing that’s pursuing her.  It gets suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuper Freudian when she encounters alternate versions of her mother and father, who are an ice queen and a sort of swamp guy, respectively.  There’s also a really unsettling bit with Genevieve’s boyfriend, who has some sort of French alter-ego and comes on strong to Greta.

What does this all mean, and will Greta ever make it back to the party? Does she even want to make it back?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

This is a very gentle coming of age story.  Though it does tackle some heavier themes surrounding Greta’s home life and fear of attention, these receive only brief attention.  I might complain about this if I were in a different mood, but avoiding anything too deep was a breath of fresh air with some very sweet moments and surreal scenes (admittedly with somewhat mixed results).

Elliott is one of my favorite teen characters ever now, though he is perhaps way too nice to be believed.  I don’t care—I want to believe.  I want Elliott to be my best friend.

behind a parked car, a boy models a party dress for a girl in a gray suit
Case in point.

The lack of depth is a bit frustrating at times—Greta quickly changes the subject when anyone tries to talk too much about the past, and the surreal scenes don’t really give us any insight into her psyche.  At a certain point they do cross over into artsy film school BS.

It doesn’t help that the real and dream worlds are kept separate—it would have been nice to see them woven together better.  Genevieve briefly alludes to what happened on her own 15th birthday, and as the music box is a gift from her mother, the whole experience could have been a shared experience.  I would’ve LOVED it if there were more time for female relationships in this movie.

However, I enjoyed the aesthetic and this was just whimsical and sweet enough for me to enjoy.

Would Christa share a donut with this one or leave it to get lost in the woods?  Find out by reading her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Drive Me Crazy, or: Teen Spirits

This week’s film is brought to you by bad decisions to revisit, ahem, “classics,” and by the sudden realization that you had terrible taste as a child/teen/human being.

I just wanted to remember Melissa Joan Hart before the “attack on Christianity” propaganda films.  Is that wrong?

The Film:

Drive Me Crazy

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Melissa Joan Hart is a high school overachiever who grooms her vaguely grungy neighbor into her prom date rather than face the horror of attending prom solo.

The Uncondensed Version:

This is a teen rom-com, so obv it’s a given that 2 high school kids from different cliques couldn’t seriously go to prom together…could they???  I think you already know the answer to this question.

MJH is an overachiever, and I can’t remember her character’s name at all because she will never not be Melissa Joan Hart/Sabrina to me.  She’s very into the school’s upcoming centennial, ‘90s fashion, and star basketball player Brad.

A teenage girl in a crop top stands talking to a girl in a collared shirt, with video cameras behind them in a news studio
What?  It was the official uniform for the school’s news channel.

Though MJH and her neighbor, aka that dude from Entourage, used to be childhood friends, they haven’t spoken since middle school.  Entourage dude, who I remember is named Chase (mostly because that is the most ‘90s name) is something of a rebel/slacker/prankster without entirely committing to the grunge scene.  I’m not really sure what clique this would be considered, but the film wants us to take away from this that he doesn’t care about school spirit or “normal” high school teen stuff.

One of his schemes involves putting orange dye in the water sprinklers while everyone is at lunch on the lawn, apparently b/c of his contempt for mochaccinos and the music of Celine Dion.  Which I mean, yeah, I’m not into either of those things, but IDK if I would ruin anyone’s white clothing over that.

A teenage girl holding a binder stands under a shower of orange liquid
Only MJH would look this graceful while being dyed orange.

MJH and Chase both seem happy with their respective high school lots…that is, until Brad asks another girl to the centennial dance, and Chase’s rebel girlfriend breaks up with him for not being that into “real” activism.

After getting extremely drunk at a party, MJH decides she and Chase should pretend to be a couple so she’ll have a date for the dance, and Chase can make his ex super jealous.  First step = go to the mall and clean up Chase.  It’s actually one of the worst ways I can think of to begin a relationship, but I admittedly have a fear of malls bordering on paranoia.

Anyway…unsurprisingly, cliques of all types are resistant to this mixing of high school cultures.  MJH and Chase brush off insults pretty easily, and it doesn’t take long before taking the time to understand their differences means the two develop genuine feelings for each other.

A teenage girl stands next to a teenage boy wearing a beanie, both looking ahead expressionlessly
True love…obviously.

You know there will be complications, however, as there are still 45 minutes left.

What will happen when Brad breaks up with his cheerleader girlfriend, Chase’s ex wants him back, and MJH’s bff decides to be a bitch for no reason?

DRAMA.  DRA.  MA.

The Rating:

It’s really hard to be objective about this one because I LOVE Melissa Joan Hart and she’s so adorable as a 22-year-old teenager (which is probably one of the more reasonable age gaps for a teen movie, TBH).

But I have to confess I lost interest in the plot long before this movie was even halfway over and only powered through because of my commitment to this blog (you’re welcome, readers).  This is an example of a film better fondly remembered than disgracefully re-watched because this one was so much worse than I remember.

Additional thoughts, in no particular order:

  • That girl who is always the best friend in teen movies is in this and is a total bitch for seemingly no reason except maybe “that’s how girls compete.”
  • Every time there’s a misunderstanding…so. Much. Moping. Say what you will about Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare was spot-on re:  the teenage impulse to jump to stupid conclusions and do really insane shit as a result.
  • So many butterfly clips had to die in the making of this film.
  • I thought the “loser” friend characters, Ray and Dave, were quite sweet, though perhaps thinly veiled versions of the filmmakers (esp. re: revenge sequence in video project form).
  • Usually I would object to a film not featuring the titular song, but “Drive Me Crazy” is featured for no reason at a random party that has very little relevance to the plot. Everyone knows the time for “Drive Me Crazy” in the ‘90s would be, uh, PROM.

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

This would very possibly be 1/5 without MJH.  Do yourself a favor and re-watch Sabrina, Down Under instead if you’re longing for a simpler time in MJH’s career.  Or cross your fingers really hard and hope a Sabrina, the Teenage Witch reboot happens.

Did this one drive Christa crazy in the good way or the bad way?  Find out in her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Jennifer’s Body, or: Would You Hold It Against Me? (Sorry/Not Sorry)

High school month continues, which I promise will feature at least one cheesy throwback teen rom-com.  Prepare yourself, Christa.  For now, teen horror comedies abound!

The Film:

Jennifer’s Body

Where to Watch:

Figure it out

The Premise:

A high school teen’s best friend experiences a transformation into a bloodthirsty demon, causing a rift to develop between the two.

The Uncondensed Version:

Memorably, Amanda Seyfried tells us “Hell is a teenage girl.”  No argument here—except perhaps hell is being a teenage girl.

In the present, Amanda aka Needy has been institutionalized for reasons as yet unknown.  All we know is she has amassed a fan following that sends her letters, and she frequently has to be placed in solitary confinement for her violent outbursts.

Fhd009JNB_Amanda_Seyfried_059.jpg
Oddly, images this week from the Jennifer’s Body Wiki.  For real.

Before all of this, though, Needy was just an ordinary nerd whose BFF was gorgeous cheerleader Jennifer.  They have a somewhat uneven friendship, as Needy has to constantly overanalyze what she’ll wear so she looks cool but not better than Jennifer.  Needy’s boyfriend Chip notices the weird connection between the 2 girls and the way Needy follows everything she says.

Jennifers_body_7.jpg
It’s science that you’re more likely to do things pretty people ask of you.  Or something.

Jennifer and Needy go to pretty much a dive to see a band led by Goth Adam Brody (say what).  Though Jennifer jokes about becoming a groupie, at some point she seems to become literally hypnotized by the band.  Also a fire breaks out, which the girls manage to escape, but others are not so lucky.  The band appears to do nothing to help and, in fact, seems pretty set on getting Jen into their van.  Obv Needy has a very bad feeling about this, but she can’t dissuade Jen from getting into the van.

Is this the last of Jen?  Of course not.  Just when Needy thinks she must be gone for good, Jen shows up at her house, looking all scary and blood-soaked.  She eats a chicken, vomits blood and needles, and leaves.

Di-9ODYGZ.png
Just another girls’ night…

The next day at school, Jen returns and is completely normal by all appearances.  However, it becomes clear pretty early on that she hungers for flesh.  Specifically, she’s pretty intent on murdering and disemboweling high school boys.

Needy becomes increasingly disturbed until Jen finally crosses the line by murdering Needy’s Goth friend Colin.  Jen does explain that on the night of the fire the band members sacrificed her to Satan in an effort to make it big as an indie band, instilling in her a thirst for blood.

After doing some trusty library research, Needy discovers how to destroy demons and warns him the dance will be a feast for the band and Jen.  Chip, of course, doesn’t believe her and only cares that he’s already bought the corsage and everything.

Jennifers-Body-2009-Amanda-Seyfried-pic-9.jpg
School libraries:  an unexpected hotbed of occult research.

You know for certain some Carrie­-level shit is going down at prom.

The Critique:

Better than expected in the beginning with slightly more depth than the average teen horror comedy.  I thought this could either be the greatest or a complete disaster, with no room in between.  I wouldn’t call this a great film, but it was entertaining and surprisingly feminist(ish).

There is quite a bit of exploration concerning friendship between high school girls and the darkness that can creep into those relationships.  It doesn’t work as well as Ginger Snaps, though, and frequently feels like a watered-down version of that film albeit with demons instead of werewolves.

Being a teen movie, stereotypes abound regarding each of the cliques.  Stereotypes aside, this is one of the more realistic approaches to high school dynamics I can think of—Needy has friends in many different cliques rather than being friends only with nerds.

Though the relationship between Needy and Jen is well-defined, the other characters fall flat.  Chris Pratt makes a brief appearance, and JK Simmons with hair is in this (which is weird).  Chip gets quite a lot of screen time, which is unfortunate as he’s a pretty forgettable character and I gave zero fucks about him.  Plus I feel Chip is an acceptable name only for a chipmunk.  Or, like, a Chippendales dancer.

Not destined to be a classic, but not a terrible way to spend an hour and a half either.

The Rating:

3/5 Pink Panther Heads

Is Christa BFFs with this one or would she slowly rip out its intestines, Satan possession or no?  Find out here!

A teenage girl with dark hair and red lipstick holds a black and white cat in a blanket
Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

All Cheerleaders Die, or: Do They?

School is still in session in this blog as we’ve chose a high school movie theme for this month.  It’s my pick this week, which I’d like to preface by saying (a) I thought it would be way better and (b) it wasn’t as bad as Monkey’s Paw.  Nothing can possibly be worse than Monkey’s Paw.

The Film:

All Cheerleaders Die

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Cheerleaders killed in a terrible accident return from the dead seeking vengeance.  With a witch thrown in there for good measure.

The Uncondensed Version:

Lexi is a cheerleader very much looking forward to senior year, as she explains to amateur filmmaker Maddy.  She tells us cheerleading is a dangerous sport and cheerleaders are much more likely to suffer injuries than football players…just before she performs a flip that goes horribly wrong.  Right, it’s that kind of movie.

Fast forward a bit, and the squad is holding tryouts for Lexi’s spot.  In an unexpected move (almost as unexpected as the Spanish Inquisition), Maddy tries out and earns a place amongst high school royalty.  However, for reasons unknown to us, Maddy reveals to her video blog (not using the word “vlog”) that this is all part of some elaborate plot to ruin senior year for all of the cheerleaders.  Because that’s what you do in high school instead of read, write super emotional entries in your journal, and fear the day you’ll be called on to participate in class.  Or so I’ve been told.

Complication to Maddy’s plan is Lena, a really needy Wiccan who has named a cat after Maddy and doesn’t understand why they broke up.  Lena walks away angry and upset, which is probably not the best.

Outside of a house at night, 2 teenage girls talk, facing each other. One of them holds a large shiny handbag, while the other holds a black and white cat.
Cat!

The new head cheerleader Tracy is now dating Terry, Lexi’s ex-boyfriend.  Terry is a huge douche and cheating on Tracy, which Maddy uses to drive a wedge between them and date Tracy herself.  When Terry figures this out, he’s extremely pissed off and ends up ruining a cemetery party.  Honestly, dude.

Coincidentally, Lena is sitting in a dark corner near the party casting spells, tossing runes around, and doing general witchy stuff.  But really this is just an excuse to stalk Maddy, who is busy making out with Tracy.

But back to Terry, who picks a fight, punches Tracy, and begins a high speed chase between the football players and cheerleaders.  We get a classic afterschool special scenario in which irresponsible drinking and driving leads off a cliff into the river below.  The football players come out of this unscathed, of course, and just sort of quietly slink away.

four teenage girls in the woods at night stand facing the camera
Seriously, bro?

Lena has seen everything and drags all of the girls out of the river in the hopes of saving Maddy.  She’s too late, but does this really bizarre ritual that makes a sort of blood snake and draws some sort of life essence into stones that each of the girls absorb.  It doesn’t make a lot of sense, you guys.

The next morning, the cheerleaders wake up in Lena’s room, which is exciting because (a) Maddy is alive and (b) Lena’s weird witchcraft thing actually works.  However, for some reason this also means that the girls have to drain the spirit from living humans and they also have a sort of psychic connection through the stones.  I just…don’t follow.  At all.

a group of four cheerleaders walks down the hallway of a high school
You know you’re undead when you have red lips and a pleather cheerleading outfit.

This goes on for a bit until there’s some typical high school drama, of which I will spare you the details.  Then, of course, things take a turn for the worse when Terry realizes he can absorb the stones, which make him sort of all-powerful?  I think?  And all of this means a showdown in the cemetery where some will live, some will die, and some will…remain undead I guess?  If that’s what they are?

The Rating:

First of all, this was a bit of a trainwreck in terms of plot and explanation of supernatural elements.  Witchcraft brought the cheerleaders back from the dead, gave them a psychic connection, made them thirst for human energy, and switch 2 of their bodies???  Are they witches or zombies or all of the above?  There was a further plot twist at the end that made even less sense.

Also towards the end, the writers tack on a rape revenge story, which I hate hate hate so much because it’s focused on having a really creepy voyeuristic murder scene that’s portrayed like a rape scene.  And it spends way more time on that scene than anything resembling female empowerment.

Besides that, the character motivations made no sense—it was unclear to me why Maddy wanted revenge against the entire cheerleading squad when she really had a bone to pick with one particular sleazeball.

This one wanted to be The Craft but also a zombie movie while providing biting social commentary, so it made little to no sense.

2/5 Pink Panther Heads

Because there were witches, guys.  Witches and I didn’t even care.

Would Christa bring this one back to life or run it off a cliff?  Read her review here to find out!