Backspot Review: Devery Jacobs Commands This Complex, Queer, Cheerleading Coming-Of-Age Drama – SlashFilm


“Backspot” walks a delicate line between traditional teen fare and an adult-centric drama, which is precisely the intersection Riley inhabits. When she and her girlfriend Amanda share the screen outside of the gym, it feels like the story “Bend it Like Beckham” would have been if it were allowed to be canonically queer. The always wonderful Shannyn Sossamon is a great addition as Riley’s straight-laced mother, but in typical teen movie fashion,, we don’t get as much time with her as some viewers might like. But that’s because it’s not about those who orbit Riley, it’s about Riley, and the way Waterson displays her interior life is one of the strongest parts of the film. 

There’s a frenetic, intense energy to the camera movements of the physical demands of cheerleading, but that’s par for the course in a post-“Stick It” world. Waterson takes a similar stance toward all of Riley’s emotions, with swirling, romantic bliss when Riley and Amanda have intimate scenes. Or there’s the anxious, invasive portrayal of her trichotillomania, obsessively isolating the action of picking at her eyebrow hair in extreme close-ups. This stylish approach intertwines Riley’s external presentation with her true feelings, a fascinating bit of commentary on the way we are always, always curating the face we allow the world to see. We’re constantly performing in the competition of life, and we seldom let anyone know just how hard it can be to get by.

Waterson elects not to hide the pools of sweat or imperfections hidden beneath the well-worn tropes of determination and ambition, but the script adds in a bevy of story threads seldom explored. Riley and Amanda are a biracial queer couple where neither woman is white. Riley has a queer role model in Eileen, who is herself an intense mess of a human being. Riley’s dad may or may not be emotionally abusive, but Riley doesn’t have time to really explore any of this, because she’s got training to do.

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