Cheer Up (For Film’s Sake Festival)
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Cheer Up is a poignant reminder of the twists that life can take.
The word cheerleader brings to mind images of curvy, bronzed girls from the south of the United States, overly-perky and grinning huge, white smiles as they shout encouraging affirmations to some primary-coloured football team. But Christy Garland’s Finnish documentary, Cheer Up, is anything but: taking us into the lives of a losing teenage cheerleading team in the Arctic Circle, we follow cheerleaders Patricia and Aino, and their coach Miia, whose lives kind of suck at the moment. But how can you be a peppy cheerleader when you can’t cheer yourself up?
Cheer Up’s biggest twist is that it’s barely even about cheerleading: instead, it is a quiet, meditative documentary, offering a deeply personal, sometimes heartbreaking look into the lives of three women struggling with tragic pasts and uncertain futures. Patricia is struggling to find her place in her changing family dynamic; Aino is straining to keep up with her rock-band friends; Miia is taking chances to find love and maintain her professional life, and as these three women fight for some control over their lives, their cheerleading family is their only constant. Garland takes you on an emotional rollercoaster as Aino, Patricia, Miia, and their whole team fail and come out on top, but through it all she reminds us that the people around us are not only also fighting their own battles, but understand our pain and are here to help.
Full of stunning arctic visuals and silent pauses full of meaning, Garland is a master of less is more, taking a story which could’ve easily offered loud, dance-filled distractions, but only uses them sparingly, choosing instead to focus on the women and their lives. Even the cheerleading routines that we do see are gorgeously symbolic: close-ups on elated faces, triumphant flips have been painstakingly practiced, reminding us of the journey that these girls have taken to get to this moment. Cheer Up is a poignant reminder of the twists that life can take, and a quiet encouragement that you can always get back to the top of the pyramid.