Back to School #19: The Pom Pom Girls (dir by Joseph Ruben)

The Pom Pom Girls was released in 1976, the same year as Massacre at Central High.  It also features two actors who made quite an impression in Central High — Robert Carradine and Rainbeaux Smith.  However, that is where the similarities end because, whereas Central High was a political allegory disguised as an exploitation film, The Pom Pom Girls is an almost prototypical 70s teen comedy.  Whereas Central High was all about subtext, The Pom Pom Girls has no subtext.  Try to look between the lines of The Pom Pom Girls and all you’ll find is blank space.  And, finally, while Central High remains a difficult film to see, I’ve lost track of how many of my Mill Creek box sets include The Pom Pom Girls.


The Pom Pom Girls is about … well, close to nothing.  Johnnie (Robert Carradine) and Jesse (Michael Mullins) are students at Rosewood High School in California.  Because the film was made in 1976, they spend most of their time driving around in a van and listening to MOR radio stations.  Johnnie and Jesse are also star football players, which is one of the odd things about the film because, while Carradine is genuinely likeable and Mullins makes for a plausible sullen high school student, neither one of them comes across as if they could be football players.  The big game comes up against rival Hardin High, so there’s a prank war that involves a little more nudity than the ones on Saved By The Bell ever did.  Johnnie and Jesse also have girlfriends, both of whom are cheerleaders.  Jesse cheats on his girlfriend but apparently, the audience is supposed to sympathize with him because she refused to go to the beach with him.  Johnnie, meanwhile, has a leather jacket-wearing nemesis named Duane (Bill Adler), who is upset because Johnnie is dating his ex.  As often happens, it all ends with a recreation of the famous “chicken run” from Rebel Without A Cause.  We watch a car explode from three different angles. In order to leave you with some suspense, I will not mention whether anyone was in the car.

You’re welcome.

And a fun time was by all...

And a fun time was by all…

One of the strange things about The Pom Pom Girls is that while the two main characters and their girlfriends are all presented as being rebels, they’re also presented as being the most popular kids in school.  Johnnie and Jesse are the captains of the football team.  They’re dating the captains of the cheerleading squad.  Despite the movie’s attempts to convince us otherwise, these people are not rebels fighting the establishment.  Instead, they are the establishment.  This is actually something that The Pom Pom Girls has in common with Richard Linklater’s far superior Dazed and Confused.  The difference, however, is that Dazed and Confused actually calls its character out on the hypocricy of their posturing while The Pom Pom Girls just tries to have the best of both worlds.  Johnnie is both a star football player and the class clown who breaks the rules.  Jesse is both a great team player and an angry individualist.  I guess that’s the 70s for you.

He owns a van.  It has shag carpeting and a strobe light.

He owns a van. It has shag carpeting and a strobe light.

Back in high school, I was often asked to try out for cheerleading but I never did.  For one thing, I didn’t see why I should have to try out when they could have just easily approached me and said, “Hi, will you please be the new head cheerleader?”  Even beyond that, I couldn’t stand the idea of always having to be happy.  And, perhaps most importantly, my sister was already a cheerleader and I wanted to establish my own thing.  However, I still made Erin watch The Pom Pom Girls with me and I asked her if the film was a realistic portrait of high school cheerleading.  In response, she rolled her eyes which I believe was her way of saying no.

But, even if it isn’t exactly Bring It On, The Pom Pom Girls still does have some worth as a time capsule of the clothing, attitudes, and vans of the 70s.  To be honest, that’s probably the only thing of value that The Pom Pom Girls has to offer because, otherwise, it’s basically a film about a likable guy who spends all of his time hanging out with a guy who will literally not stop whining about being a football player and how nobody is willing to go to the beach with him.

Incidentally, The Pom Pom Girls was released by Crown International Pictures.  Much like the company’s previous film, The Young Graduates, the main message here appears to be that the 70s kind of sucked.


8 responses to “Back to School #19: The Pom Pom Girls (dir by Joseph Ruben)

  1. Robert Carradine makes for a much more convincing nerd than as a football jock.

    Why didn’t the cheerleading squad ask you to be their new head cheerleader?


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