[Written for Seattle Post-Intelligencer]
Natasha Lyonne (The Slums of Beverly Hills), the most sardonic young actress working today, puts on a cheery face and wears her pom-poms with pride as picture-perfect cheerleader Megan. But she’s got a problem: her boyfriend’s sloppy, slobbering kisses don’t get her all hot and bothered (“Maybe he just doesn’t do it right,” she ponders), she loves tofu, and she proudly hangs a Melissa Etheridge poster in her bedroom. In this cookie-cutter suburb of Anytown USA, those are the telltale signs of lesbianism.
Ambushed with an intervention, Megan is sent to a homosexual deprogramming clinic known as True Directions run by shrewish matriarch Mary Brown (Cathy Moriarty in Wicked Witch of the Midwest mode). In a life-sized dollhouse that looks like a Fisher Price version of a Father Knows Best set, girls dressed in powder puff pink vacuum, embroider, and scrub linoleum floors, while outdoors chirpy “ex-gay” Mike (RuPaul out of drag and in a T-shirt that reads “Straight is great”) tosses footballs and teaches auto mechanics to a group of limp-wristed, highly uninterested baby blue boys.
The girls may be earnestly trying to wash those same-sex impulses out of their system with domestic role-playing games by day, but at night they rebel. When not using the electroshock aversion therapy as foreplay, they sneak out on the “underground homosexual railroad” to boogie their conformist impulses away at a gay bar. Good girl Megan finally admits her true feelings to dour rebel Graham (Clea DuVall) and they share the kind of smooch that sends Mary Brown into eye-rolling convulsions.
There’s an inoffensive energy to Jamie Babbit’s lampoon of homophobia hysteria. Driven by a peppy peppy girl group rock score, the film plays gay stereotypes as broad farce and middle-class fear as frantic panic, but there’s no bite beyond the cartoonish laughs. Afraid to take the film into genuine satirical territory, Babbit finally stalls it in an insistently earnest climax that’s supposed to be defiant but melts into mushy cliché. (The whiny folk song accompaniment doesn’t help.)
Which is a shame, as Babbit has gusto to burn. His gingerbread art direction and gee-whiz parody of 1950s TV stereotypes played out by modern teens doesn’t carry the insight or the edge of satire, and he wastes the wise Lyonne as a perky innocent when her strengths are in her wisecracks and knowing looks, but it’s disarmingly funny in its own naïve way.