September is upon us, leaves are changing colors and falling to the ground, pumpkin beer is showing up on store shelves, and all of the kids are heading back to school. We decided to celebrate the latter with a series of classic high school movies that celebrate all of the best and worst parts of this awkward and dramatic period of schooling in fictional worlds where 14 to 18 year-olds actually look like 24 to 28 year olds. Ahh, Hollywood. And with that, we present: Back to High School.
“This is not a democracy. It’s a cheerocracy. I’m sorry, but I’m overruling you.”
The Set Up
Leanna here, to take you through some backstory about why Bring It On made the cut to appear in our selection of our #BackToHighSchool series. First off, it’s an amazing movie. The script is on point, the choreography is a 10 out of 10, and the soundtrack wraps it all together with a bow as neatly tied as the one that I wore in my hair every Friday night of football season from 2006 – 2008.
That’s right: yours truly was indeed a cheerleader.
Cheerleaders generally have a terrible reputation. They’re often portrayed as dumb, dramatic, petty, and worst of all, easy. The first year that I was a cheerleader, I didn’t talk about it to my friends outside of my actual high school. It wasn’t something I was proud of, and I didn’t want it to be a part of my identity.
This all changed during my second year when some new people joined the squad (Jared) and I became better friends with new additions to our competition team (Erin, Moira, and Sadie). Jared and Erin helped me appreciate my affinity for nerd culture, the art of an after-midnight heart to heart, and just generally how to be a better, happier, more accepting person. I credit these two (among others) for changing the squad as a whole and making my cheer experience a much more positive one.
And did I mention that during all of this, we actually won shit? That’s right – like Bring it On shows, cheerleaders treat football and basketball games as practices. The most serious part of our time, energy, and strength is devoted literally every day to training, conditioning, and practicing for the state cheerleading competition. We lifted and threw human beings into the air (and caught them, most of the time) all while yelling at the top of our lungs and with smiles on our faces. Cheerleading honestly made me a better, healthier, more confident person. I have my coach, my team, and my lifelong friends to thank for that. I am who I am today because of the experiences we had together.
But back to the movie… Bring it On embodies the best of cheerleading, and the worst, but the best prevails. It shows how difficult, dangerous, and competitive cheer is even at a high school level (although many of the stunts they perform are illegal for that division – ILLEGAL STUNTS!). Nonetheless, it’s a female driven movie (spoiler alert: the lead gets the trophy boy at the end of it all) with valuable lessons in teamwork, competition, athleticism, and friendship.
Note: The cinematographer didn’t start recording in time to catch our huddle where instead of yelling our team name or something else stereotypically inspirational, we, to the surprise and chagrin of our coach, chanted, “FOR NARNIA!” while acting as though we were unsheathing swords.
We kept the food simple for this one and based it off of a staple for every cheer team dinner. We held these weekly before the football games when we would spend literally hours getting ready, eating, taking photos of each other, eating some more, setting up for the game, and sneaking more desserts if possible.
Additionally, we were asked to bake cookies for the football team each week, and as you can probably tell, I was already developing a beat to my own drum that was getting louder and louder, so I decided to bake brownies instead. I’ve calmed down a bit since those days of rebellion, but the brownies have only gotten more adventurous.
We upgraded my signature recipe of Ghirardelli brownie mix bought in bulk from Costco by not only making our own mix, but adding a crushed pretzel crust and layer of caramel in the middle.
In case you missed it, cheerleaders are absolutely athletes and they need to hydrate the same way everyone else does. Naturally, we turned to Gatorade to get the job done.
We designed our drinks around the G Series: Energy, Hydration, and Recovery.
To get us ready for the event that was about to unfold, we needed all the energy we could get our hands on. So we doubled up and added both the Cool Blue Energy Chews and the Fruit Punch Sports Fuel Drink to a concoction of vodka and a strong splash of lemon.
To hydrate ourselves in the midst of all of the excitement of the movie, we went with a classic Lemon-Lime Thirst Quencher with some orange juice, curaçao, and a little lime. This drink made our lips pucker, but it also quenched our thirsts.
Finally, to finish it all out and recover from the marathon of drinking during Bring It On (just wait until we get to The Rules), we decided to recover with a Chocolate Protein Shake Cocktail with Kahlua, cocoa powder, half & half, and a hint of coffee beans. It was a wonderful way to finish out a night showcasing our abilities as bartenders.
- Drink whenever someone says Toros.
- Drink whenever a new squad is introduced.
- Drink whenever a cheer starts or ends.
It’s so hard for me to even begin to explain why this movie is so great because it’s tied so much to my own high school experience and time as a cheerleader. But, I’ll try to keep them separate because what Director Peyton Reed created here is something worth talking about even if you had an entirely different high school experience.
The story primarily follows Torrance (Kirsten Dunst), the newly knighted Cheer Captain of the predominantly white Rancho Carne Toros (yes, that translates to Meat Ranch), but we are quickly introduced to her rivals, the predominantly black Clovers, and their captain, Isis (played by Gabrielle Union). Quick side bar for some fun facts: Both teams underwent cheer bootcamp prior to filming, and Dunst and Union were both cheerleaders during high school. The extra effort they put in shows, because the stunts, dances, and cheers they perform definitely require a high level of effort and coordination, and they all capture the infamous showmanship of real cheerleaders.
Torrance discovers that her entire cheerleading career has been a sham when she learns that the previous captain recorded and hijacked the routines that the Clovers developed, and being the underdog, the Clovers never came forward to combat the injustice. But this all changes under the leadership and direction of Isis. It’s a surprisingly knowledgeable piece of storytelling that speaks to larger issues of cultural appropriation and wholesale co-opting.
This movie could so easily have then turned into another “white people solving problems for minorities movie,” but it doesn’t. There are plenty of opportunities, one of the most obvious being when Torrance finds out that the Clovers lack the funds to go to Nationals. She rallies her begrudging team, organizes a fundraising event (a car wash, how high school), raises the money to get them there, and when she presents the check to the Clovers, Isis tears it up in her face. She turns around and gets her team the money on their own, using their own wit, determination, and charm. When the teams get to Nationals, they don’t owe each other anything except a fair fight.
I define being the best as competing against the best there is out there and beating them. They have to go.
I won’t spoil the ending for you, but I’ll just say that both teams give flawless performances, and you honestly won’t feel like anyone lost given the results.
Both teams ooze the sass, confidence, and attitude that defines the essence of cheerleading, and they do it in their own unique way. Although the movie plays up and exploits some cheerleader stereotypes, it also destroys them with both captains. Torrance follows her heart: she falls for the goofy, grungy misfit and never really sells the audience on her relationship with cocky, preppy, conventionally good-looking Aaron. Better yet, when Aaron tries to swoop in and save the day by hiring Sparky, the legendary hero who popularized the immortal “spirit fingers,” he fails because Sparky is a disaster.
Torrance picks herself and her team up and leads them to Nationals, and maybe a potential victory. Meanwhile, Isis never even appears to have a love interest but is wholly committed to her team. In fact, this movie passes the Bechdel-Wallace test with flying colors. Men play a minimal and often negative role with women taking the front seat, showing off their athletic prowess, and teaching us all a lesson in teamwork and leadership.
Andre: Meh. Bring It On was more entertaining than I expected, but my expectations for this movie were really low. While I chuckled once or twice, I never really found myself laughing at this movie, so it failed as a comedy in that regard. Overall, I would say it is a very forgettable movie for me and not one I plan on watching again.
Leanna: I’m scoring this movie a 9 out of 10. In cheer, at least when I did it, you lost a point for every wobble during a stunt. I’m deducting my point for some of Torrance and Missy’s hair decisions. I know it was the early 2000s… But come on.
Ben: 80%. When I watched Bring It On at a younger age, I hadn’t realized how impressive it was in some of its handling of culture and the stealing or appropriating of it. While it is all wrapped up in a high school cheerleader movie, it is an enjoyable movie with plenty of humor and good routines. Watching it again solidified that it is a solid film, even if it does have a very strong early 2000s feel to it. It may be outside your normal wheelhouse of movies, but I would say you should give it a watch the next time it is on FX (or whatever channel it always seems to appear on, bah, who am I kidding, no one watches cable nowadays, so just watch it on HBO Go).