Why Sugar & Spice Is A Better Nostalgia Watch Than Bring It On

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When Sugar & Spice was released 15 years ago, it arrived just six months after another cheerleading movie, Bring It On, became a surprise hit. Sugar & Spice flopped, but we're here today to champion this comedy about a pregnant teen who turns to a life of crime. It might actually be a better nostalgia watch, full of faces you kind of remember and a narrative that's much lighter on the nastiness.

To relieve viewers of pretty much all taxing ontological questions they might have about each member of the squad — who are they, really?! — the cheerleaders are each given Breakfast Club-style designations in the opening credits. There's the brain, the terminator, the rebel, the stalker, the mastermind, and the virgin. I spent a significant part of the film wondering if the virgin was played by Alicia Silverstone. It's actually Rachel Blanchard, who played Cher in the short-lived Clueless TV series, so I was on to...something.

Sugar & Spice
mixes every teen film you've ever seen with your favorite heist film: A pretty, popular, and pregnant head cheerleader named Diane (Marley Shelton) decides she needs to steal so she can pay for diapers and post-delivery designer jeans. The movie is told in flashbacks, narrated by Lisa (Marla Sokoloff), who is a bitter, second-string member of the cheer squad and the only truly cruel character in the film. Sitting in a police station, she explains how super-close the A squad is, so close that they all share a box of tampons for their synchronized cycle. (I always wondered, Do they all go in on one box, or switch off buying month-to-month?)

At the start of their senior year, Diane meets football player Jack (James Marsden, who had perfected the dreamy goofball a decade before marrying Liz Lemon) by back hand-springing into his face. And lo, young love is born. Soon, the two are off to homecoming, engaged and expecting. Bizarrely, their parents are ecstatic when they learn that their teenage children are getting married, but homicidal when informed they are going to be grandparents.

Photo: Moviestore Collection/REX Shutterstock.
After some rose-colored teen-pregnancy scenes that exist in an entirely separate universe than Degrassi or 7th Heaven — here, teen parents-to-be continue to be dopey in love, only vaguely distracted by the impending stress of a baby — Diane realizes they need more money than what she's bringing home from her job at a bank and Jack from a video rental store (NOSTALGIA!). She decides the squad's next bonding outing will be robbing a bank. She comes up with that brilliant plan while watching Point Break, which is amazing but also raises a lot of questions, like, what would her plan have been if she'd been watching Silence of the Lambs?
What dates the movie more than anything, even the NYPD Blue references, is the aggressive homophobia. Kansas, a member of the squad whose mother went to prison after shooting Kansas' father for sleeping with a nurse while Kansas' mom was in labor, seeks out her criminal parent for advice. But when Kansas momentarily thinks her mom is gay, she freaks. (It turns out her mother's straight, so the bonding can continue.) Gay slurs are sprinkled in like so much innocuous seasoning. It's at least heartening to realize how weird that would come off in a cheery teen comedy today.
The girls rob a bank dressed as "Betty Dolls," and after striking a deal with Lisa to give her a spot on the top-tier squad in exchange for an alibi, they get to stay one step ahead of the law and keep the money. Throughout the entire film, there's only minor inter-squad bickering and basically zero discord between the two young lovers (it helps that Jack is basically Andy Dwyer). It's actually kind of refreshing to give into a low-stress piece of cinematic puff, with medium stakes and as little conflict as you can possibly have and keep a narrative.

In the Animal House-esque flash-forward credits, everyone gets exactly what they wanted, even Lisa. As "American Girl" plays, the film — and by extension, your teen years — seems airily pleasant. You wait for the other shoe to drop, for the teen father to cheat or a jealous member of the squad to blow their cover, but everyone really is a true team player in the end. Bring It On may be a better movie overall (okay, it is), but it's so rare these days to find a non-cynical bit of entertainment that doesn't drip with saccharine or... just totally suck. If Bring It On brings back memories of every little clique war you had to deal with in high school, Sugar & Spice will remind you of a time when anything, no matter how ridiculous, seemed possible.

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