Sugar & Spice (2001)


By Cynthia Fuchs

PopMatters Film and TV Editor


The latest entry in the hopefully waning trend of cheerleader movies, Sugar & Spice actually has a dark, possibly clever premise, one that might have yielded keen insights into the particular and sometimes devastating pressures of high school girls’ culture. This premise has to do with the film’s vague evocation of the case of four well-to-do Houston girls (one of whom was a former cheerleader) who donned ski masks and went on an armed robbery spree in 1999. You can see the potential here, maybe some nimble social commentary or sharp humor, something along the lines of Heathers or Clueless. Unfortunately, Sugar & Spice, no matter how or where it might have started—and there are rumors that it did begin with a shrewdly funny, if somewhat disturbing, script—arrives in theaters devoid of anything that might resemble cunning or even moderately intelligent commentary. Even the cheerleader jokes are lame.

The skimpy plot goes like this: five high school cheerleaders—perfect blond Diane (Marley Shelton), slightly trashy Kansas (Mena Suvari), Conan O’Brian-obsessed Cleo (Melissa George), religiously inclined Hannah (Rachel Blanchard), and relatively brainy Lucy (Sara Marsh)—are full of adorable pep and team spirit. Well, almost full. Kansas has a bit of an attitude because her mom (Sean Young, playing a lesbian, with “see-how-rebellious-and-unglamorous-I’m-willing-to-look” frizzy hair) is in prison, but this attitude is reduced to her wearing dark eye makeup and black clothes. In high school, such fashion daring can count for a lot. In this movie, it counts for zip.

When it turns out that Diane is pregnant by her airheaded star quarterback boyfriend Jack (James Marsden), the girls realize that it’s going to cost a bit of money to support the child in the manner to which Diane is accustomed, and that neither her parents nor Jack (who is, essentially, too stupid, too used to privilege, or too willfully naive to comprehend the seriousness of the situation) will come through with the proper upkeep. And so, friends-till-the-end come up with their own plan: they’ll rob banks. Or rather, they’ll rob the bank branch in the supermarket where one of them works. Diane declares that it will be fun, “like a great big craft project,” and the girlies set about designing costumes (“Betty” doll masks and U.S.-flag inspired cheerleader outfits, rigged with prosthetic tummies so they all look as six-months pregnant as their fearless leader) and devising a strategy, which includes carrying guns and executing some cheerleader moves. In order to secure the guns from a local pawn shop owner (who looks as sweaty and scummy as the stereotype dictates he looks), they agree to take his high school age daughter Fern (Alexandra Holden) onto the squad. She becomes the stereotypical make-over project, emerging from her dowdiness into full-blown, pink-cheeked-and-sparkling-smiled beauty.

The film is structured as a flashback, narrated by resentful perennial B-Squadder Lisa (Marla Sokoloff), who is ratting out the others to the cops. Her voice-over includes traces of what might have been, but not nearly enough. In the course of their adventures, the girls learn a lesson, I think, but maybe not. It’s difficult to sustain much interest in Sugar & Spice, probably because the movie shows so little interest in the questions it raises. What’s at stake, for whom, in the insular world of high school cheerleading? How do girls see themselves in relation to each other? The best point made by the film suggests what might have been: in preparation for their exploit, the girls do homework: they watch instructive bank robbery movies, like Point Break, Dog Day Afternoon, Reservoir Dogs, and perhaps most tellingly, The Apple Dumpling Gang. You can find bad behavior—and worse, bad ideas—in the most PG entertainment.

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