"That's what it's about...picking people up, not knocking them down. Whoever you are, they want you to be the best that you could possibly be!" - Joshua
Energetic 10-year-old Josh Dowd is a walking motivational poster: "A positive attitude, determination and a whole lot of moxie are all key factors to success!" He also wears a pink watch with--remember these?--a Swatch Guard, and a homemade button with the face of Mike, his favorite varsity wrestler. He doesn't quite fit into the conservative structure of the conveniently named Normal Heights, the small town where he lives with single mom Andy. She wishes Josh was more into wrestling than cheerleading, but the persistent kid is on a mission to make enough money for cheer camp (if he sells 10 magazine subscriptions, he'll get the new DVD Best of College Cheer Vol. 3).
While the films are vastly different, I couldn't help but laugh to myself thinking about the basic premise that Ready? OK! shares with Joshua. In the 2007 thriller, fragile mom Vera Farmiga was slowly unhinged as she realized her young son might be possessed by the devil. Here, fragile mom Carrie Preston becomes slowly unhinged when she realizes her son might be gay (the horror!). But no one dies in this cute and quirky comedy, a funny yet mature film that finds the perfect balance as it imparts laughs and old-fashioned lessons about life and happiness.
Andy (Preston) is a hard-working yet high-strung mom who spends her days as a segment producer and assistant to insensitive reporter Halle Hinton (Kali Rocha) for the cheesy community beat at the town's lowest-rated TV station (watch for the segment with actor Sam Pancake playing Mable). Having been left by her husband and abandoned by her father, Andy doesn't have much patience with the men in her life. That includes frazzled twin brother Alex (Preston's real-life brother John), an unemployed drifter who wanders in and out of her life. He arrives at her doorstep at the start of the film following the death of their father, looking for a place to crash.
So when son Joshua (Lurie Poston) persists with his desire to attend an upcoming cheer camp, the cracks begin to surface on Andy's face. "What is it with the men in the family running away from their commitments?" she says when her son skips wrestling practice. "We're not quitters, Josh." The fourth-grader faces more battles at his private Catholic school, where he's met with stone-faced resistance by Sister Vivian (the talented Tara Karsian, who you'll recognize from a number of television appearances). She's a stickler for rules, but that doesn't faze Josh, who wants on the team: "I'm not trying to break the rules, I'm trying to change them!"
Josh finds encouragement from uncle Alex, who wants some cheering tips for his new advertising job; grandma Emily (Sandra Ellis-Troy), who loves to push her daughter's buttons; and neighbor Charlie (Michael Emerson of Lost), a tailor who's clearly, uh, artistic. But mom becomes increasingly aggravated by the prospect of her son's sexuality. She gets called to the school when Josh--required to dress up like his favorite person in religious history--gets his first taste of drag, donning a Maria Von Trapp dress. "Did you understand the assignment?" asks mom. "She tried to be a nun!" explains Josh.
There are a lot of things I love about Ready? OK!, which doesn't try too hard to make a point--or make you laugh. Sure, it's sweet and cheery, but there's still honesty with its hopes, fears and relationships--and the film steers clear of the heavy camp it could have easily drowned in. Carrie Preston does an amazing job as her character becomes more complex, and somehow manages to be funny even when she's being selfish. Her confessional scene--and her some of her late exchanges with Josh--are beautiful, and Preston's face works just as hard as her voice in relating Andy's fear and pain.
Preston also plays beautifully off brother John, who comes across like a slightly less spastic Will Ferrell (which is a good thing). And while we don't get to see too much beyond Josh's cheery exterior, Poston does a solid job in a role that asks a lot. It sometimes feels like he's reciting memorized lines rather than feeling them, but isn't that how a lot of ambitious 10-year-olds come across? I wish the film explored Josh's heartache and inner conflict a little deeper; it would have been a tough challenge, but everyone here would have been up to it.
Still, all of the key relationships here feel real, and the script by writer/director James Vasquez knows when to pull back and when to push it just a little bit. He shows restraint (something hard to find in so many of modern gay cinema's offerings), which makes the film much more relatable. And while so many films (not just the low-budget indies) fail to find the right comedic tone, Ready? OK! soars, achieving just the right tempo to keep a smile on your face--it takes its time, and the laughs are more natural given the strong character development. Carrie Preston deserves much of the credit, her flustered verbal farts and brief moments of clarity providing constant chuckles ("You're like your daddy," she says to Josh. "He likes cheerleaders...").
And while the film is definitely more funny than serious, it still hits deeper notes. For any child that has seen the sadness or disappointment on a parent's face (one of the most gut-wrenching things a kid can go through, it stays with them for a lifetime) or did something for someone else's benefit (football tryouts, anyone?) or was teased in school--and for any parent struggling to accept--there are so many wonderful, meaningful moments here.
But just when the film starts to tug at your heart, the cheerleading squad arrives on the scene to perk you up, interrupting the story like a gay Greek chorus sent from above:
"My name is Josh!" Hi!
"I've got panache!" Yeah!
"And on God's mat..." What?
"...is where it's at!"
The disc provided by Wolfe was a screener, so the anamorphic 1.78:1 transfer may not represent final product. The transfer provided was average--not very crisp or sharp, with frequently dull colors--but not nearly enough to damper the enjoyment of the film.
The 2.0 track is also average, but more than adequate for the dialogue.
No extras were presented on the screener disc, but the final product apparently offers what sounds like an interesting batch: featurettes, an audio commentary, blooper reel and trailers.
Who knew that one of the strengths in a film about a young boy aching to be a cheerleader would be restraint? Unlike many other efforts in modern gay cinema, Ready? OK! doesn't rely on camp to catch your attention. Writer/director James Vasquez isn't trying too hard to make you laugh, relying on an honest yet humorous script and top-notch performances to keep you cheering and pull your heartstrings. Gimmie an R! Gimmie an E! Gimmie an C! Gimmie an O! Gimmie an M! Gimmie an M! Gimmie an E! Gimmie an N! Gimmie an D! Gimmie an E! Gimmie an D! What's that spell? Recommended!