When I first started high school, quite a few people told me that I needed to follow my sister Erin’s example and try out for cheerleader and I have to admit that I was occasionally tempted to do so. I never did because I already had ballet and drama club, I wanted to establish my own identity, and Erin told me that being cheerleader meant that I had to be perky all the time and, quite frankly, I’ve always needed my time to sulk. Add to that, I’ve always been a natural contrarian so my usual response to several people telling me that I need to do something is to do the exact opposite. (That was perhaps even more true in high school than it is today.)
On the one hand, I can honestly say that I have never regretted not trying out for cheerleading. On the other hand, it’s only natural to occasionally wonder, “What if?” Would I have been the nice, responsible cheerleader like the type that Kirsten Dunst played in Bring It On? Would I have been the bitchy cheerleader who cruelly maintained the school’s status quo? Or would I have been the one trying to make fetch happen? Personally, I like to think that I would have been the cheerleader who dressed in all black and who came up with snarky cheers that sarcastically commented on modern culture.
That question of “What If?” is one of the reasons why I always make sure to catch all of the Lifetime cheerleading films. The other reason is that I enjoy making Erin watch them with me so I can ask her if they’re a realistic depiction of what it was like to be a cheerleader. For instance, earlier today, I made Erin watch The Secret Lives of Cheerleaders with me and I asked her, “Is this an accurate portrayal of cheerleading?”
“Maybe if you were a cheerleader in Hell,” she replied.
In The Secret Lives of Cheerleaders, Savannah May plays Ava. Ava and her mother, Candice (Denise Richards), have just moved to a new town and that means that Ava is going to be starting at a new high school. With her mother’s very strong (some might say too strong) encouragement, Ava tries out for cheerleading and makes the squad. Soon, Ava is not only a hit with the other cheerleaders but she’s also on her way to becoming the most popular girl at school! That doesn’t sit well with Katrina (Alexandria DeBerry), the cheer captain and homecoming queen who is all about three things: trying to control everyone’s lives, hazing the Hell out of all the new recruits, and being more popular than everyone else. When Ava makes it clear that she’s going to date whoever she wants (even if he isn’t a starter on the football team) and that she’s not really that happy with all the hazing either, Katrina plots to take down her only potential rival.
There’s not a subtle moment to be found in The Secret Lives of Cheerleaders, which is why it’s perhaps the best Lifetime cheerleader film ever made. From the minute that Katrina gives Ava the side eye, we know that we’re in store for an epic battle between two differing philosophies of high school popularity, with Ava representing the way we wish things could be while Katrina represents what we secretly suspect the world to be like. The film’s signature scene is perhaps the moment when Katrina and Ava get into an impromptu dance-off on the football field. It’s so thoroughly and unashamedly over-the-top that it’s also more than a little brilliant.
I mean, seriously, this is a Lifetime cheerleader film. You don’t watch a film like this for a subtlety. You watch a film like this for scenes of Katrina live-streaming a hazing and forcing her rival to stand on edge of the roof of the school. We watch a film like this for the moment that the entire high school breaks into applause as they watch one of their classmates get led away in handcuffs. Savannah May and Alexandria DeBerry are well-cast as the rival cheerleaders and DeBerry especially deserves credit for making Katrina the most joyfully evil cheerleader in recent memory.
Whether it’s an accurate portrayal of high school cheerleading or not, The Secret Lives of Cheerleaders is an undeniably entertaining Lifetime film. It fully embraces the melodrama and we’re all better for it.