Previously: Bend It Like Beckham.
There are times I feel very sure that if I were to let a copy of Bring It On rest against a copy of But I’m A Cheerleader, some sort of lesbian osmosis will take place and I will be able to watch a version of this movie where Missy and Torrance make out in the last scene. That is how close Bring It On‘s subtext comes to text.
(An aside: did you know that there are four direct-to-DVD Bring It On sequels? Who would have predicted that Bring It On would become the Land Before Time of teen movie franchises, or that “racially fraught cheerleading squads face off” would become such a popular cinematic trope in the mid-2000s? End aside.)
Bring It On bridges the strange, ambiguous generation gap between Clueless and Mean Girls without ever being quite as popular or as enduring as either. It’s miles gayer than Clueless and only the slightest bit less gay than Mean Girls; Lizzy Caplan out-gays Eliza Dushku by the slimmest of margins. It’s hard to believe that this came out around the same time as Bend It Like Beckham when it feels like the product of a completely different era. I remember finding it deeply shocking at the time that one of the male cheerleaders was almost-but-not-entirely out of the closet.
Missy: What is your sexuality?
Les: Well, Jan’s straight, and I’m…controversial.
Missy: Are you trying to tell me you speak fag?
Les: Oh, fluently.
Bring It On is flooded with the kind of ambient gay wash that only a movie about cheerleading set at the turn of the millennium can pull off. Courtney and Whitney (the two would-be head cheerleaders who fall somewhere in between Brittany and Santana from Glee and Lenny and Carl from The Simpsons) are always hanging out together in their sports bras, giving each other lingering once-overs and drawling out viciously bitch bon mots. Their favorite put down is “She puts the X in Y,” as in “She puts the ass in massive” or “She puts the whore in horrifying,” which I imagine would have been helpful on the verbal part of the SATs.
I give you this:
And I give you this:
The correct caption for both of these images is “Hello, nurse.”
There’s more than a little romantic energy between Kristen Dunst’s head cheerleader character and her cross-town rival Isis, mostly because it’s impossible for Gabrielle Union not to be sexually charismatic.
But when it comes down to it, nothing — but nothing — gets in the way of Torrance and her new best friend Missy, who she has to literally recruit to her team.
Missy: See, I’m a hardcore gymnast. No way jumping up and down yelling “Go, team, go!” is gonna satisfy me.
Torrance: We’re gymnasts too, except no beams, no bars, no vault.
See? Torrance is going to have to work very hard to satisfy her. It’s her duty as cheer captain. Torrance’s last name, by the way, is Shipman, in what I can only assume is a nod to the TVTropes HoYay! page that did not yet exist.
Everything about Missy’s audition scene is spot on — the Daria era alterna-teen signifiers (her walk, her wallet chain, her twisty hairstyle, her fake barbed-wire tattoo), the fact that we’re introduced to her ass before we get a good look at her face, the way she and Torrance are warily intrigued as they size one another up. But Courtney and Whitney are dead set against her, and Missy runs off after Courtney says “Besides, she looks like an über-dyke,” in what is almost certainly a classic act of closeted misdirection. Torrance doesn’t care what Missy looks like; Torrance just knows that she needs her.
And Missy’s just looking for an excuse drop the act and say yes to someone.
But Missy does look like an über-dyke (IN A GOOD WAY). Eliza Dushku’s got that lesbian smirk (closely related to lesbian jawline) that brings the girls over the fence. She’s the doe-eyed, laid-back baby goth to Torrance’s chipper, flinty-eyed cheer princess. Torrance softens Missy’s defensive edges (remember the scene where Missy finally puts on a cheerleading outfit and starts to dance like nobody’s watching?), while Missy keeps Torrance from being a completely mannered, alienating speed addict. The dynamic between them is so perfect that the screenwriter just gave Missy a nearly identical twin brother (complete with matching smirk) to act as Torrance’s heterosexual love interest. Jesse Bradford was the closest male equivalent to Eliza Dushku at the time. The science has improved over the years, but we’re still not quite there yet.
But — all due respect to Jesse Bradford — this is a movie soaked in way too much gay atmosphere to permit a happy boy-on-girl ending. Besides, it’s not Cliff who changes Torrance’s life. Missy’s the one who tells her all their previous victories were a lie, that the previous captain had been stealing routines from the Clovers, and that she’s going to have to change everything if she really wants to win; Missy’s the one who blooms into someone who’s actually capable of giving a shit about other people and about her goals under Torrance’s gentle but stern tutelage (Torrance, a true femme, is steel wrapped in velvet; Missy, a baby butch, is velvet hiding under steel). Torrance runs to her house to plead with her to be her friend. (Also, I’m pretty sure at some point the two of them have a pillow fight). Missy tells Torrance she’s going to have to bring it to change her, and Torrance brings it on.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.