Lifetime Review: 'Webcam Cheerleaders'
Cheerleading and cybersex intertwine in this middle-of-the-road Lifetime drama.
Maisy Martin (Joelle Farrow) was stunned when she learned about the death of her twin sister Amelia. Having been close to her sister her whole life, Maisy can't accept the belief that Amelia's death was a suicide. Transferring to Vanderton University and joining Amelia's cheer team, Maisy hopes to find some answers as to why her sister was so secretive before her death. The claims that Amelia suffered from depression and couldn't handle the pressure of school and cheer don't sit right with Maisy, so she begins investigating the squad to see what else her sister was involved with before she died.
It's not long before Maisy discovers the Vanderton cheerleaders' secret: many of them moonlight as webcam girls for a suspicious website. Shocked by her sister's double life and convinced the site is connected to Amelia's death, Maisy continues poking around to find out what happened to her sister. But as she does, the people behind the cam girl site plot to make sure Maisy's sleuthing doesn't bring down their lucrative business. And they might just be willing to spill some more blood to stop Maisy from exposing them. Can Maisy bring the truth to light without meeting the same fate as her sister?
The final film in Lifetime's 2021 Fear the Cheer marathon, Webcam Cheerleaders shares a little in common with the previous film on the roster. Both focus on a young woman investigating the odd goings-on of a popular cheerleading squad with a dark underbelly. And as you'll also see, both occupy the same range on my rating scale. In terms of script and characterization, Webcam Cheerleaders suffers from a lot of the same problems as Cheer for Your Life. And with a comparatively less interesting mystery at its center, this movie only inches ahead of the last movie on my review plate thanks to its more likable/entertaining characters.
Like Cheer for Your Life, Webcam Cheerleaders is shaky in its opening minutes. Amelia's death scene is what opens the film, and whether it was performed by Joelle Farrow herself or a stunt double, Amelia's rooftop fall wasn't convincingly acted. It looked less like she slipped and more like she backed up against the ledge and threw herself over. After that, we're treated to an odd sequence of Maisy and others acting way too nonchalant about the inherently awkward situation of a dead girl's twin sister joining her cheer team. The stiff acting and dialogue only make the weirdness more palpable. Things improve over time, with the patches of bad dialogue becoming more scattered and the actors loosening up as the movie goes on.
After initially feeling stilted as Maisy and her mother Nancy remember Amelia together, Joelle Farrow and Krista Bridges give stronger and more believable emotional deliveries. Farrow sells both Maisy's grief and her determination to find out what happened to her sister while Bridges gives a touching portrayal of a mother struggling to make sense of her child's death. Last of the Martin bunch is patriarch Randy, who Ash Catherwood makes just as sympathetic as Maisy and Nancy. While the Martin women externalize their grief, Randy internalizes his by shutting everyone out and turning to alcohol to numb the pain. Catherwood makes Randy's concealed heartache over his daughter's death clear, allowing you to feel for him just as much as you do his wife and surviving daughter. Another character you'll feel for is Max, Maisy's surprise sidekick whose sister is also involved in the cam girl operation. Chris LeBlanc gives a compellingly emotive performance as a young man desperately trying to rescue his sibling from a dangerous predicament. SPOILER ALERT Though as much as LeBlanc and Farrow gel together, Maisy and Max becoming a couple in the epilogue is a random revelation that doesn't come after any real buildup. Spoilers Over
There's just one thing that bugs me about the four characters described above: how judgmental they are about cam girls. It's clear from the get-go to the viewer that the people running the cam girl site are exploiting the girls involved and preying on their desire for financial security. But when she first discovers the site, Maisy doesn't know this or that it's tied to Amelia's death. Thus, her negative reaction to the site comes across as prudish slut-shaming. The same applies to Max, whose response to learning about Kiki's online activity (which continues after he and Maisy learn of the site's shady dealings) veers uncomfortably close to victim-blaming. Even Nancy and Randy each get a moment of expressing the same attitude, albeit to a lesser degree than Maisy. It's a far cry from last year's Mile High Escorts, which was much more progressive in its take on the sex industry. Thankfully, it's only a minor recurring element, which keeps it from becoming a movie-breaking type of annoyance.
What comes closer to being a movie-breaker is Webcam Cheerleaders' so-so storytelling. I enjoyed the inverted detective story angle. Half of the movie is spent on Maisy's investigation and the other half is spent on the antagonists working to stop Maisy from taking them down. The identities of the people running CheerleaderCamGirls.com are revealed within the first eleven minutes, and it's a good thing they are. The second athletic director Rob Thornton came onscreen, my alarm bells were going off. While he's pretty stiff when it comes to portraying Rob's smarmy public image, George Thomas fares better whenever Rob lets his inner snake out. Whether he's scheming to stop Maisy's snooping or casually dismissing his loyal accomplice/lover, Thomas makes Thornton appropriately slimy. Hannah Galway does just as good a job as Vanderton cheer captain and Rob's conniving mistress Ella. But when it gets to the final act, the film oddly starts trying to paint Ella as another victim of the cold-hearted Rob. After watching her callously conspire against Maisy and her other fellow cheerleaders, these attempts to make the audience care about Ella fall flat on their faces.
Outside of the compelling performances, Webcam Cheerleaders' story doesn't pack a whole lot of punch. The mystery is as straightforward as it gets, as is the admittedly well-acted family drama among the mournful Martins. Even the surprise third-act twist doesn't do a lot to spice up the lackluster conclusion. For all its faults, Cheer for Your Life at least had a fiery finale to offer. SPOILER ALERT On the flipside, the twist gives Tiara Johnny a chance to flex her abilities. After Lisa is revealed as Amelia's true killer, Johnny is able to bring some emotional depth to Lisa's remorseful confession. It's the only bright spot in an otherwise underwhelming ending. Spoilers Over
The last two characters of moderate note are cheer coach Anna Hayes and henchman Brian Killian. While Alli Chung brings as much charm as she can to her average role, Jon Welch takes the generically stoic approach to playing a generically unfettered lackey. But overall, characters are a big part of how Webcam Cheerleaders recovers from its mediocre story. Apart from the irksome attitudes some of them display, the main protagonists are a fine bunch, with Maisy making for a likable enough heroine to follow for an hour and twenty-seven minutes. And after his actor finds his groove, Rob Thornton makes for a fun sleazeball villain. So while it may not end Fear the Cheer 2021 with a fierce rallying cry, Webcam Cheerleaders still puts on a worthy show.
Score: 6.5 out of 10 cheerleader teddy bears.