Things are feeling a little gloomy all round (on both sides of the Atlantic) so Jill chose this charming little underdog indie to cheer us both up. Frankly, any movie that starts with Heart & Soul by T’Pau and has Geena Davis as a spiritual guide to our protagonist is going to be A-OK with me.
Don’t Talk to Irene (2017)
When an overweight girl gets suspended from school, she must endure two weeks of community service at a retirement home. She secretly signs the residents up for a dance-themed reality show to prove that you don’t have to be perfect to be great.
Irene (Michelle McLeod) is a somewhat downtrodden teen who doesn’t have many friends but does have a young mom who used to be a popular cheerleader, until she fell pregnant. Their relationship is shaky at best and that’s because Mom (Phillips) is full of regret for the life she didn’t have.
Irene though is an absolute joy with her heart set on becoming a cheerleader herself. She dons a homemade cheer uniform and heads to class, determined to follow her dreams. There she meets the amazing Tesh (Reid), the eccentric new kid who doesn’t conform to conventional gender roles – and obviously I love the fuck out of them, not least because they’re drawn to Irene and become her first ally.
“If gender were a country, I’d be Switzerland.” ~ Tesh
Unfortunately, Irene’s school is full of grade A bitches (who knew?) and when she allows herself to get tricked by mean girl Sarah (Aviva Mongillo) into doing something disgusting to get into the squad, she finds herself suspended for two weeks. Sadly for all the suspended – that’s Irene, Sarah and Sarah’s lame boyfriend – this doesn’t mean a fortnight dossing about the house in pants. It means hard community time in an old folks’ home.
Frankly, had the old people’s homes I worked in as a teen been even half as salty as this one, I may have pursued a career in care. Alas, old Mrs Tibbets (and her wielded walking stick) was the closest I got to the sassiness of old girls Millie and Ruth, who quickly cotton on to the fact that Sarah is a cunt. Meanwhile, Irene is gee-d on by her own secret cheerleader Geena Davis, who makes it clear that Irene can do anything she puts her mind to.
So she does – by roping in the old folks into an America’s Got Talent style reality show audition. While Sarah and the boyf (who’s name I couldn’t be bothered to learn) ramp up their bullying tactics, Irene bonds with the golden oldies, including new resident hottie Charles (Bruce Gray) and even manages to recruit Tesh and the cook (who I also LOVE).
When they’re shortlisted to compete on the show for real, on television and everything, shit gets real. Will Irene get them all to the city, despite several obstacles and Sarah’s best efforts? You know what to do to find out the answer to that, yo.
This movie is right up my street. It’s a small Canadian indie with the biggest heart, boasting an unconventional (and totally adorable) heroine and a cornucopia of killer lines. While it’s not heavy on story, it is genuinely heartwarming with a wonderful message. Be yourself and fuck everybody else.
There are several scenes that stand out for me. The one in which Irene learns about the legend of Milli Vanilli (who I grew up with and loved) is especially poignant – while the finale is priceless. It’s just so damn good that I couldn’t help shedding a tear. As Sarah takes the piss out of Irene and her dancing buddies, the penny drops that our protagonist just don’t give a fuck and even Mom has to concede that she’s raised a good ‘un.
Colour me impressed.