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.
Don’t Talk to Irene
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 ‘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?
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.
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.
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?
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?