Picked Flick #40: Bring It On
I haven't met anyone who thinks Bring It On is a bad film, though I can only assume such characters exist. Rather, in my experience, Bring It On cleaves its viewership into two camps: those who see a merely adequate but derivative and utterly unspecial movie about cheerleading forchrissakes, and those who see the Grand Illusion of modern high-school comedies. I have found that it is difficult to communicate across the divide between the agnostics and the devotés. It's even a little bit difficult to communicate among the devotés, because for the converted, to be in the presence of Bring It On is to be bathed in total, self-evident pleasure. Explanation falters out of what amounts to unnecessity, but let's try. Let's start with the single frame I have reproduced here, from a mutedly climactic scene where duelling squad captains Torrance (Kirsten Dunst) and Isis (Gabrielle Union) exchange succinct, slightly tense, but generous advice about how to keep their cheerleaders in perfect formation during their respective routines at the national competition. Note that almost every primary color as yet discovered by man is evidenced in this shot, but the overall effect is more engaging than garish. Note that the strong, diagonal, and yet flattering designs for the uniforms of the Rancho Carne Toros and the Compton Clovers toe a precocious line between a silly, unexploitative sauciness and a tough, sporting conviction about the tasks at hand. Note that the framing plays up a symmetry between Torrance and Isis, conveying that these longtime rivals have entered into something like a mutual understanding, even as the sharp contrast between the two backgroundsblue and white color bars behind Isis, a percolating crowd behind Torrancecontinue to set them off from each other. Actually, I emend myself: Torrance is the Prime Meridian of this shot, exactly dividing the two background fields on either side of her, subtly reminding us that the scene isn't so much about a standoff between the mavens as a turning point within Torrance herself, who now meets Isis as a fond equal without relinquishing any of her own competitive zeal. Chicas, you can pause or replay Bring It On liberally and find care, undertones, and tiny formal ironies like these. It isn't Orson Welles, but for crying out loud, when was the last time color, composition, blocking, and design were this precisely calibrated in a teen comedy?
And not just any teen comedy, either, but one with a bevy of diversely likeable characters? Starring a pedigreed teenage actress who bounces right into the kind of role that pedigreed teenage actresses often convince themselves, understandably, that they should avoid? Scribe Jessica Bendinger knows what she's doing, basing things around a somewhat standard-issue plot for movies like this (the rich white girls are stealing the poorer black girls' routines, but the latest white girl Feels Bad About This!), but sticking the expected resolution (the white girl makes guilty, philanthropic amends) into the center of the picture, where it elicits a properly brusque refusal from characters who don't want or need to be condescended to. Bring It On manages to get its PC cupcake and eat it, too: double-standards are memorably laid bare, but a strict, objective meritocracy remains firmly in place. That means, the best bringers still win, and how! The final plume in the movie's hat, or maybe the pom-pom in its hand, is director Peyton Reed, whom nobody seems to have told that teen flicks require impersonal direction, largely to keep the actors in frame and under Seventeen lighting. Instead, Reed shapes the scenes he wants, none of them better than a piquant flirtation at a bathroom sink that doesn't need any dialogue. He even wrings some fresh laughs from one of those boilerplate sequences I hate, the kind of montage in which 19 stereotypes and walking punchlines fail at a task, nearly failing at their own humanity, so that the 20th person looks like a comparative gem. Bring It On isn't a comparative gem. It's just a gem, rallying all the pep that pop movies can muster and sticking with you afterward. (Click here for the full list of Nick's Picked Flicks.)
Image © 2000 Universal Pictures.