In the late 90s and early ’00s, Natasha Lyonne starred in several offbeat or irreverent films. While I’m partial to the 1998 coming-of-age movie Slums of Beverly Hills, one of her most iconic performances is definitely the lead role of Megan in 1999’s But I’m a Cheerleader (dir. Jamie Babbit).
Megan, a cheerleader with a boyfriend, never considers that she might be a lesbian until her family ambushes her with an intervention and sends her to a reparative therapy camp that tries to turn gay teens straight. Ironically, it is coming to this camp that makes Megan realize that she actually is a lesbian, and begin to accept it. She also develops a romance with a fellow student, Graham (Clea DuVall), who is more confident in her sexuality but also more frightened of being rejected by her family.
This serious-sounding premise is played with absurdist humor and biting satire. The film lampoons the ridiculousness of rigid gender roles and the idea that people can be taught to be straight by forcing them to adhere to these roles. The film’s bright color palette and idyllic set and costume design give it a larger-than-life quality. The supporting cast includes one of my favorite underrated actresses, Melanie Lynskey, and RuPaul in a surprising role as an ex-gay teacher at the camp.
This movie is not for everyone—the humor relies heavily on stereotypes, and can be polarizing. But I find it to be a fun, fairytale-like send-up that benefits heavily from its great comedic cast.