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Intense Cheerleading Drama Sticks the Landing FSalinks

Summary

  • Devery Jacobs shines as Riley in a thrilling cheerleading drama, showcasing the commitment needed for elite success.
  • The film addresses complex themes with an energetic approach, but may not accurately depict parental involvement.
  • A fierce Evan Rachel Wood coaches with menace in this intense character study of obsession in cheerleading.



Devery Jacobs shines in an intense cheerleading drama that’s markedly different from previous films about the popular sport. Backspot follows a pair of queer high school cheerleaders as they make a championship squad coached by a ruthless perfectionist. Their paths diverge as something that once brought them together becomes divisive and unhealthy. The film addresses complex themes with an energetic approach indicative of the steadfast commitment needed to succeed as an elite cheerleader. It’s thrilling to see despite a questionable acceptance of the girls’ intimate relationship. Most parents wouldn’t allow an underage couple to spend the night together unsupervised.


Riley (Jacobs) runs at full speed before somersaulting across the gym floor. That wasn’t good enough. She can do better. Riley is the backspot for her cheerleading team. She’s responsible for lifting, supporting, and catching the “flyer” in aerial stunts. It’s her job to protect their head and neck. She kisses Amanda (Kudakwashe Rutendo) after a good practice session. The squad laughs together in the locker room. The girls are happy, but envious. They walk past another gym where the all-star Thunderhawks are still hard at work.

Riley and Amanda sing in the car on the way to her house. Her mother, Tracy (Shannyn Sossamon), manically cleans the living room. She can barely pull away to say hello. Riley displays the same behavior that night in her room. She picks nervously at her eyebrows while watching practice videos. There’s a lot of improvement needed.


Backspot Is a Vigorous and Visceral Sports Drama

Backspot (2024)

3.5/5

The plot follows two cheerleaders named Riley (Jacobs) and Amanda (Rutendo) as they navigate the world of professional cheerleading.

Release Date
May 31, 2024

Director
D.W. Waterson

Runtime
1h 33m

Writers
Joanne Sarazen , D.W. Waterson

Production Company
Page Boy Productions, Night is Y, Prospero Pictures

Distributor(s)
XYZ Films

Pros

  • Devery Jacobs is sublime in a tense character study about an obsessive athlete and her coach, played by a fierce Evan Rachel Wood.
  • The portrait of generational differences and trauma is fascinating with regard to queerness.
Cons

  • Backspot portrays parents in a rather one-dimensional way, and some characters behave unrealistically.


The following day brings an exciting opportunity. Thunderhawks coach Eileen McNamara (Evan Rachel Wood) and her assistant, Devon (Thomas Antony Olajide), are holding tryouts for open positions. Each girl will get a try to show their tumbling skills on the floor. Riley claps as Amanda sails through her audition. Her turn is a disaster. She falls but refuses to give up. Riley goes again and nails the routine in front of pitch silence.

Eileen brings Riley to her office for a stern rebuke. How dare she go again after being specifically told every girl only had one chance? Riley shakes nervously but pleads her case before being rudely dismissed. Amanda’s solace doesn’t comfort. She suffers a debilitating panic while alone. But Riley and Amanda receive stunning news at the next practice — they’ve both been invited to join the Thunderhawks.


Director/co-writer D.W. Waterson fires out of a cannon with her feature debut. Backspot’s vigorous opening scene sets the stage for Riley’s aggressive personality. Cheerleading defines her entire sense of self-worth. She can’t help but microanalyze every point of perceived weakness. Failure is simply not an option. Riley inherits this predisposition from her mother. Tanya’s non-stop cleaning and Riley’s disturbing eyebrow plucking are cut from the same cloth. Both cannot let go of the thing that drives them.

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A Fierce Evan Rachel Wood Coaches with Menace

Evan Rachel Wood in Backspot
XYZ Films


Amanda is Riley’s only love outside cheerleading. She unabashedly cares for her girlfriend. The fact that they’re in it together affirms a close bond. That becomes frayed when Amanda begins to chafe under Eileen’s harsh tutelage. She won’t be subjected to abuse and possible injury. Unlike Riley, cheerleading isn’t a necessity for her. This revelation crushes Riley and drives a wedge between her previously inseparable relationship with Amanda. It’s a choice that pushes Riley further over the edge and into a dangerous downward spiral.

Backspot sticks the landing with its examination of Coach Eileen’s influence over impressionable teens; the film almost feels like Whiplash but for cheerleading. Riley will do anything to meet Eileen’s high standards. She worships a woman who should be her ideal mentor. Eileen is an older lesbian who’s achieved the pinnacle of cheerleading success. But instead of caring and nurturing Riley’s growth, Eileen browbeats her into cruel submission.


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Eileen’s life provides a counterpoint that can sadly be used to validate her harsh methods. She doesn’t paint a rosy picture of what life has in store for Riley. Eileen wants her to be tough and resilient, as she herself had to be. She went through hell and believes returning the favor is the only way to prepare Riley for the challenges to come.

A great scene has Riley smacking down a schoolmate who dares to insult cheerleading as not a real sport but just sideline eye candy for male athletics. This sexist and ignorant view wrongfully discounts the exhaustive training and dangers cheerleaders face. Riley correctly proclaims herself just as talented as any basketball or football player. Audiences will definitely cheer when she retorts, “Let me have my makeup and pom poms, b*tch!”


Devery Jacobs Shines as Riley in a Queer Character Study

Devery Jacobs taking a selfie in an arcade in Backspot
XYZ Films

Backspot’s focus on queer acceptance is laudable, but does go unrealistically overboard with the depiction of parental freedom. To be crystal clear, though, there’s no nudity or salacious activity in the film. The girls have a sweet and tender relationship, but all signs point to a closer connection.

Ultimately, the film is not so much an LGBTQ+ narrative as it is a character study of a young woman with an unhealthy commitment to a great sport, and the bitter coach who brings out her obsession. Aside from the rather glib indifference of the parents in Backspot, everything is thoughtfully and accurately represented. Jacobs is absolutely sublime here. She did all of her own stunts and adds realism to the film, cementing her as a name to watch.


Backspot is produced by Page Boy Productions (Elliott Page’s company), Night is Y, and Prospero Pictures. It will have a concurrent theatrical and VOD release on May 31st from XYZ Films. You can watch the trailer below.

#Intense #Cheerleading #Drama #Sticks #Landing

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