Cheer Up

When it comes to sports movies in general, and cheer leading ones in particular, we’ve seen the gamut: we’ve seen big, decisive wins, tragic near misses, hard-earned second places, and undeserved firsts. Canadian-born director Christy Garland shows us the side rarely seen in movies but always there in real life; she shows us the losers.

cheerupIn Cheer Up, we meet Finland’s second-worst cheer leading squad. On the heels of a humiliating loss, Garland explores what it takes to keep going in the face of defeat. Where will the girls find motivation? The documentary follows three of the women in particular – coach Miia, and team members Patu and Aino. We soon realize that their struggles and failures are not just confined to the gym. Miia’s personal life is on the rocks, Patu is grieving her mother while her father impregnates a new girlfriend, and Ainu follows the highs and lows of first love, and all the teenage angst that comes with it.

Actual cheer leading is quite minimal in the film, but team practices tend to be full of CfJ8RVBW8AQ8j2Ktears, tumbles, and bloodshed. Miia travels to the cheer leading mecca of the world, Texas, to seek inspiration but finds that their aggressive, winner-takes-all spirit just doesn’t translate back home.

The sum of all these parts is a stark look at the emotional toll of constant failure. Cheer Up isn’t just a title, it’s an admonition. These girls are the bleakest, saddest, most serious cheer leaders you’ve ever seen. Smiles are a scarce commodity. Despite their lack of success, Garland never loses respect for her subjects. The young women are shown to be complex, thoughtful, and strong – a big stretch from the sport’s usual Texas-sized cliches of empty cheer-up-moviepep and ponytails. It’s refreshing to remember that not everyone goes home with a trophy. For these women, and many others, success will have to be defined elsewhere.

This movie premiered at the Hot Docs film festival in Toronto; this review first appeared at Cinema Axis, home of many more excellent Hot Docs reviews.


13 thoughts on “Cheer Up

  1. fragglerocking

    Cheerleading isn’t part of our teenage experience over here, thankfully 🙂 It seems a strange thing to do or want to do, but then so is Cheese Rolling, which is unique to us, so we’re all mad.


  2. reocochran

    It looks kind of scary, Jay. May skip this one. . . If it isn’t scary it seems corny!
    But since you think it shows respect for characters, I may try this one, I trust you on this! 🙂


    1. Jay Post author

      It’s not scary or corny. If anything it’s a little sad, and I’ve never seen a sad cheer leading movie before.


  3. Divorce With Me

    Your review makes me think it’s on the depressing side. Which of course sounds completely contrary since it’s a movie about cheerleaders… the exact point you make as to why it’s refreshing. But it reminds me of everyday life. We aren’t always on the winning side so is it a movie that would be impactful? Just curious as to whether I would go out of my way to seek it out. 🙂


      1. Jay Post author

        Haha, yes, it’s real life, a real team that just can’t win, and their personal lives\home situations aren’t great either. I was really interested in learning what motivates people to keep up with something when they have no real hope of ever winning. Like, are they bad because they’re all clinically depressed? Are they bad because they come from broken homes? Do the happier, smilier girls just go to better teams, better schools? Are the happier girls just more confident, or are they better performers for another reason? And what draws a depressed, angsty teenaged girl to cheerleading?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Divorce With Me

        Very good questions. It’d be fun to see this from a big time pro team, like a losing NFL or NBA or NHL team… It’s gotta be so defeating mentally and emotionally.


  4. StephLove

    My 4th grader is thinking about cheering in middle school and I have such mixed feelings about it. I’d never thought much about the sport in other cultures and how it might be there.



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