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Tuesday 15 January 2013

Burl reviews The Pom Pom Girls! (1976)

Hi, ha ha, it’s Burl here to review a cheerleader picture! There were lots of them through the 1970s, beginning in 1972 with The Cheerleaders, and in 1976 Crown International Pictures produced one called The Pom Pom Girls! This made four consecutive years in which major cheerleader pictures had been released – long enough for audiences to start taking the phenomenon for granted, ha ha! There was no reason to believe in those heady times that every year hence would not feature such benchmarks as birthdays, Christmas, Thanksgiving and a fabulous new cheerleader movie!
The Pom Pom Girls begins with the titular girls practicing their routines while clad in tiny 1976 bikinis! This opening promises much, but for a more accurate preview of what is to come, study the inter-cut shots of the foot-ball team practicing their own moves under the direction of a dictatorial coach! (The coach is an aggressive, sexually repressed, mean-spirited bible boy, and he’s a dead ringer for George Bush Jr. physically as well, ha ha!) The two key jocks are handsome Jesse, the class stickman, and crazed, goony Johnnie, well-known as the school maniac: a reckless daredevil prone to bursts of hysterical rage or childish petulance! Johnnie is played with great physical bravado by Robert Carradine, the youngest of the three Carradine brothers, Berzak himself from Number One With A Bullet, and who donned taped glasses in Revenge of the Nerds! In The Pom Pom Girls, he pulls off stunts which no doubt make him shudder when and if he recalls them today: climbing on the roof of a moving car, taking a garbage can to the head, motorcycle daredeviltry, being hit by a car and rolling painfully down some bleachers while wrestling Bill Adler from Malibu Beach! Jesse, meanwhile, is subjected to the sadistic, homoerotic whims of the deeply closeted coach, and makes time to mount a mutually antagonistic courtship with the gorgeous but straight-laced pom pom girl Laurie!
There are plenty of other terrific scenes of delightful insouciance in the film! A wordless food fight between Johnnie and his rival in romance Duane is punctuated by shots of the other students firing their straw wrappers into the ceiling! The four main characters run, roll and somersault down a vast sandy seaside slope as breezy So-Cal pop plays on the soundtrack! Tugs o’ war, dirt bike races, pep rallies and fun at the beach are scattered throughout the film for no better reason than to show these activities happening, ha ha!
But where in all this is the cheerleading, you might well ask? We don’t get to see the girls in uniform until almost an hour in, a sad state of affairs for a cheerleader movie! Instead of the big climactic football game, the movie’s wafer-thin dramatic spine leads to a game of “suicide chicken” between Johnnie and Duane! This brand of duello involves speeding towards a cliff edge, and the first guy to brake is the loser; Johnny, having been refreshed on the rules, remarks “Oh yeah, ha ha – I saw that in a movie!” But Rebel Without A Cause this film is not, and its goodtime vibe would hardly countenance a death, even that of a sourpuss bully dressed in full Wild One Brando kit!
If there is a single movie that Dazed and Confused is emulating, right down to the beer-swilling jock heroes and their hard-bottomed coach, The Pom Pom Girls is it! The PPG universe has its jerks, its monsters, its angst and pain, but like all these movies it somehow remains appealing and desirable nonetheless! Even Jesse, the duplicitous, monstrously immature and self-centred “hero,” fails to harsh the buzz! Pleasantries abound: the one football game we see – or almost see – turns into a violent donnybrook before the game is ten seconds old; one which is scored with jaunty lounge music and serenely observed by a pair of beatifically smiling stoner benchwarmers! Deep sadness, when it intrudes, is expressed by jogging along the beach at sunset to the sound of a drippy ballad! One can hardly fault Linklater for wanting to recreate this consequence-free world in his native Austin seventeen years later, nor for successfully imitating its basic plotlessness!
The Pom Pom Girls was a fitting close to the golden years of the cheerleader film, providing as it did a more or less seamless transition to the broader high school pictures of the late 70s! Post-Watergate cynicism was no longer as evident: antics ruled the day! Ha ha, I give The Pom Pom Girls two stolen fire trucks!

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