Catch all our Galway Film Fleadh 2016 coverage here. This is a guest review by Carol Mulligan.
Cheer Up is a documentary about a team of Finnish cheerleaders who continuously place last in National competitions. In actual fact, this film is not really concerned with cheerleading, instead it focuses its attention on the lives, hearts and heads of a group of Finnish teens and their coach who happen to be bonded by a love of cheerleading. Canadian director Christy Garland followed this team around for three years and Cheer Up is a testament to the bonds she created and the lives that let her in.
What is charming and refreshing about Cheer Up is that Garland has, for the most part, successfully avoided imposing a narrative onto this group of gals. It would have been tempting to document a Mighty Ducks style story whereby this bunch of Arctic Circle Cheerleaders start the film by placing last and through hard work and determination manage to drag themselves up by their bootlaces to place within the top 5 in the Nationals. THIS IS NOT THAT FILM. This is an honest attempt by Garland to have a look into the lives of a bunch of average athletes. It is a simple, slow but evenly paced story that is engaging and features many human interest nuggets.
Cheer Up can be seen to investigate the viability of the American Dream. In the case of these Arctic Cheerleaders, hard work and a fresh new attitude was never going to be enough to drag them from last place to first place though they do significantly improve on their own terms. One of the most interesting things about Cheer Up is the insight into the Finnish temperament. American and Finnish attitudes and mannerisms are juxtaposed to almost comedic levels. Chalk and cheese would be closer than these two ways of being. Things that sound so natural coming from an energetic Texan cheerleading coach, sound very different reenacted by the somewhat hilariously unexcitable Miia. Garland lets the irony of Coach Miia telling her team that they need to look happy in a flat, deadpan tone speak for itself. You come away from this film wondering if the Finnish psyche is really suited to such an American sport, but also, glad that you were given the opportunity to look into the lives of these teenagers and their coach and vaguely curious about where in life they might be now. I would call that a success.
Director Christy Garland
Script Christy Garland
Producer Liisa Juntunen