HotDocs 2011: BOY CHEERLEADERS Review

In order for these young boys to compete in a typically all girls cheerleading competition, it is going to, as their flamboyant instructor says, "take balls."  Taking gender politics of the 21st century and throwing them up in the air before skeet shooting them, Boy Cheerleaders follows a bunch of rough and tumble (yet often framed in pink) pre-pubescent boys in equally rough and tumble Leeds as they train for the National Cheerleading Championship in London.  

The film puts special focus on young Harvey, with his adorable freckles and passion for dancing, who is fully committed to becoming a real life Billy Elliot, to even win back his father who appears to have abandoned him.  In fact, all of the boys that get special focus in this 60 minute documentary seem to lack father figures.  So Ian Rodley, who makes the posturing of Christopher Guest in Waiting for Guffman seem understated.  Rodley is a caricature, a character, and the coach for DAZL DIAMONDS, the boys dance team with pink pom poms and unusual musical choices.  He plays for the camera, but is honest and committed in the way you would expect of a coach determined to show the world that boys can compete in this all girls sport.  He uses an inordinate amount of cuss words both to the moms and the boys, but he seems to pull the things that matter for these boys into focus.  

The boys are boys, they play soccer, they use 'sniper' analogues to make a point, they throw rocks and get suspended at school.  And they train hard to dance.  Nervousness, lack of self-confidence may lead them to do a little too much frowning on their first TV appearance (some wacky UK talk show involving puppets), but in steps superhero Rodley (flame on!) to gently browbeat the boys back to happiness and high energy.  Gosh, the film is infectious in moments like this.  Cherry, the teams other coach, a platinum blonde buxom dancer who gives a round of 'facial training' (erm...) in which the boys are trained, in montage style, how to make proper smiles and pouts while dancing.  All bets are off when these boys are in full swing of puberty, but one can only wish for director James Newton to pull an Up-Series out of this doc, and drop in on the DAZL DIAMONDS boys every few years.  The film could be the best satire since The Simpsons or Fight Club if it wasn't so passionate in its execution.  Call it post-satire-honesty.   The Leeds moms have their own cliche affirming and cliche busting fearlessness and charm.

I hope that Harvey learns that winning his father back by doing well is less important for his self esteem than fearlessly following his dreams.  And for a 9 year old, he seems well upon his way.  He's got balls.
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