Sugar & Spice
review by Gregory Avery, 2 February 2001

In Sugar and Spice, Diane (Marley Shelton), the leader of Lincoln High School's "A"-team cheerleading squad, tells the four other girls on her team that she has been inspired, no, moved by the words of another great woman, words that she then proceeds to recite, with all the reverence and meaning of the Gettysburg Address or Dr. King's "I have a dream" speech. The other girls bow their heads in unison, out of recognition of the Great One whom Diane has just quoted. They then all go out and rob a bank.

And it's not even a big bank, but a supermarket bank branch, one of those little mini-places where you make a withdrawal before buying this week's groceries or obtain a money order on the spur of the moment. This all has to do with Diane (whom, as played by Shelton, has the wide, expressive eyes of the young Blythe Danner) becoming involved, at the start of the school year, with the new star of the school's football team, grinning, sauntering and charismatic Jack (James Marsden), making them, yes, a couple named Jack and Diane, just like in the John Cougar Mellencamp song. Diane becomes pregnant, Jack promises to marry her as soon as they graduate, and they get a place of their own, but Diane finds that she can't financially make ends meet, causing her to bitterly exclaim to her friends, "The Beatles were wrong: love isn't all you need!" Money must be found, and the girls get the idea while watching a video of "Point Break" -- because it, you know, has Keanu in it? -- that a bank robbery will solve all their problems.

The other members of the "A"-team include Hannah (Rachel Blanchard), who comes from a strictly Christian family and is particularly fond of horses; Lucy (Sara Marsh), whose future is pinned on her getting into Harvard; Cleo (Melissa George), who has a mind-boggling crush on Conan O'Brien; and Kansas (Mena Suvari), who just happens to have a mother in the penitentiary who is happy to give the girls all the particulars on how to go about staging an armed robbery (and who is played, in a surprising, unrecognizable, but not-bad performance, by Sean Young). Another member of the team, Fern (Alexandra Holden), comes onboard in exchange for some contraband weapons supplied by her father.

The story is narrated by a venomous member of the high school's "B"-team of cheerleaders, played by Marla Sokoloff, who not only describes scenes that she could not have witnessed or known about but whose function in the story  does not become apparent until almost the very end of the movie. In fact, by the time the main characters finally stage the robbery, the movie turns out to be almost over, so there's little or no room left to enjoy or find out what happens afterwards. The characters are drawn in broad, zany strokes, and the filmmakers try to keep the audience high on a fizzy, dizzy atmosphere -- there's so much work on creating fizz, in fact, that it turns out to be just about all there is in the movie. There isn't a single moment or depiction of  what the other kids at school think about Diane's blossoming into the flower of motherhood, how she can still get into her midriff cheerleading uniform after she is past six months pregnant, or whether or not she can still do, much less get hurt by, performing regulation cheerleading "dismounts", "illegal" or not.

The picture ends up seeming "light" without the "weight", and that may be fine for some, but it's especially apparent in some of the scenes with Mena Suvari, who not only has what turns out to be a supporting role in the picture, but gives her scenes enough of a bite to show that she has way too much talent to be knocking around in insubstantial material. Hopefully, she won't end up stuck making movies like Poison Ivy 3.


Click here to read Cynthia Fuchs' interview.

Directed by:
Francine McDougall

Starring:
Marley Shelton
Mena Suvari
Rachel Blanchard
Sara Marsh
Melissa George
Alexandra Holden
James Marsden
Marla Sokoloff
Sean Young

Written by:
Mandy Nelson

Rated:
PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned
Some material ma
be inappropriate for
children under 13

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