Retrospective Review: Bring it On

Year: 2000
Runtime: 98 minutes
Director: Peyton Reed
Writer: Jessica Bendinger
Stars: Kirsten Dunst, Eliza Dushku, Gabrielle Union, Jesse Bradford

Special Guest Writer:  Lorna Codrai

“Awesome, oh wow! Like, totally freak me out! I mean, right on! The Toros sure are number one!” How many times have you sung this to yourself? What about the film’s classic opening number: “I’m sexy, I’m cute, I’m popular to boot”? Peyton Reed’s “Bring It On” celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and the cheerleading teen comedy has achieved a cult following since its release and spawned a further five instalments in the series.

Kirsten Dunst stars as Torrance Shipman, the recently elected captain of the Toros cheerleading squad at the affluent Rancho Carne High School in San Diego, California. The football team sucks but their cheerleading team are five-time national champions and the true athletes of the school. As Torrance prepares her squad to battle for their sixth consecutive trophy, problems arise when she discovers that her predecessor (Lindsay Sloane as Big Red) has been stealing their dynamic routines from the primarily black squad, the East Compton Clovers, for years.

Transferring from Los Angeles, new girl Missy Pantone (Eliza Dushku) assists Torrance in creating new routines with the squad in order to truly establish the Toros as the inventive team their numerous trophies deem them to be. Using mime, swing dance, moves from Sweet Charity, and martial arts, the squad devote every waking hour to practice in hopes of delivery an original and fresh routine at the Nationals and, in turn, separate themselves from the embarrassment of Big Red’s cheating catastrophe.

Kirsten Dunst, Clare Kramer, and Nicole Bilderback in Bring It On (2000) © 2000 – Universal Studios

“Peyton Reed’s “Bring It On” celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and the cheerleading teen comedy has achieved a cult following since its release and spawned a further five instalments in the series.”

Their main competition, the East Compton Clovers—led by their captain Isis (Gabrielle Union)—are preparing for their first entry into the contest but struggle to afford the entrance fees. However, Isis and her fellow squad members, Lava (Shamari Fears), Jenelope (Natina Reed), and LaFred (Brandi Williams), contact a local talk show host about funding for their dream to get to the Nationals to face off against the team that has been stealing and benefiting from their cheers for far too long.

Don’t let its fluffy surface deceive you, “Bring It On” is a smart and sassy film, so much so that Roger Ebert regarded it as the “Citizen Kane of cheerleader movies.” The fun, punchy script by Jessica Bendinger sets the film apart from other teen films of the genre as the characters quickly establish themselves as a witty and creative bunch. Their terrific one-liners are brought to life by the film’s excellent cast.

Jesse Bradford as The-Clash-t-shirt-wearing Cliff Pantone—Missy’s twin brother—is charming and likeable and sparks an adorable romantic sub-plot as Torrance’s love interest. Dushku is perfect as Torrance’s new best friend and unlikely closest confidant, Missy. She’s the punker, funnier, and more sarcastic version of Torrance and the two riff off each other well. The underrated duo of Jan (Nathan West) and Les (Huntley Ritter) provide frequent laughs, as does the ridiculous choreographer Sparky Polastri (Ian Roberts).

Prior to “Bring It On”, Union auditioned for a role in another rival cheerleading film, “Sugar & Spice” (2001). Though, she didn’t get the role and later revealed it was because they “weren’t trying to go black” for the film’s main characters. Union later stated that she took the role of Isis in “Bring It On” because Reed and the production team were committed to diversity. Thankfully for us, this led to the casting of Union, who is charismatic as hell in the role. As the leader of the Clovers, the role suits her effortlessly.

Gabrielle Union, Shamari Fears, Natina Reed, and Brandi Williams in Bring It On (2000) © 2000 – Universal Studios

“Don’t let its fluffy surface deceive you, “Bring It On” is a smart and sassy film, so much so that Roger Ebert regarded it as the “Citizen Kane of cheerleader movies.” The fun, punchy script by Jessica Bendinger sets the film apart from other teen films of the genre.”

However, the film works because of Dunst. The criminally underrated actress has been working since she was just six-years-old and has remained one of the most underappreciated actresses in Hollywood throughout her career. Dunst has made no secret of the fact that she has “never been recognised in my industry” and felt overlooked by her Hollywood peers. She recently commented that most of the projects she does “people like later”. Perhaps that’s why “Bring It On” has achieved the cult-like status it has and the reason it’s retained its immense popularity two decades later? Dunst had a habit of starring in beloved films that were a little ahead of their time and 1999, in particular, was her year: “Drop Dead Gorgeous”, “Dick”, and “The Virgin Suicides” are particular highlights. Clearly she’d reserved a bit of that magic dust for the following decade.

Dunst gives Torrance a peppy charm and a smile as bright as her sunshine hair. In the hands of a lesser actor, Torrance’s outright perkiness and doe-eyed pleas would come across as nauseating and somewhat infantile, but Dunst knows how to play the game and she gives our leading lady just enough edge so that Torrance doesn’t fall into the “dumb blonde we couldn’t care less about” bracket.

You didn’t think I’d forgotten about the Clovers did you? Well neither have Reed and Bendinger, who smartly never shy away from the Clovers either. They know all too well that this is their story too. Isis’ determination for her squad to make it to Nationals on their own terms showcases her strength as a leader and their power as a group. The focus on their plight highlights not only the appalling theft of their hard work, but the Clovers themselves. Each woman is smart and tough; the squad’s presence isn’t relegated to the sidelines, and the ending is all the better because of it.

Kirsten Dunst, Clare Kramer, Rini Bell, Huntley Ritter, and Nathan West in Bring It On (2000) © 2000 – Universal Studios

“There’s no childish bitching, no sniping; just two teams, who are the best at what they do, battling it out in one final showdown. It’s ridiculously enjoyable.”

Appropriation isn’t out-rightly addressed within the film but the Toros inspire one another to change and learn from their mistakes, whilst the Clovers succeed in their chance to prove that they are, in fact, the best. In one particular scene, Isis tells Torrance to “Bring it. Don’t slack off because you feel sorry for us. That way, when we beat you, we’ll know it’s because we’re better.” Isis refuses to let herself and the Clovers be pitied and both women agree to fair play to determine the true champions.

The success of the films lies in the fact that you root for both teams, despite the fact that the Clovers provoke the Toros to reflect on injustice and respect. However, there’s no childish bitching, no sniping; just two teams, who are the best at what they do, battling it out in one final showdown. It’s ridiculously enjoyable.

Bring It On (2000) © 2000 – Universal Studios

“Bring It On” exceeds because of Reed’s confident handling of the material, the pacing, and its lightly satirical touch—thanks to Bendinger’s crackling script. Combining the trouble to make the Clovers an integral aspect of the story with a bunch of marvellously charismatic performances all around, it is unsurprising why “Bring It On” has remained such a popular film for the past 20 years.

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