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Netflix docuseries ‘Cheer’ traces legendary coach Monica Aldama and cheerleaders’ hard work as metaphor for life

Netflix has dropped its 6-episode docu-series and it's not for the faint-hearted; lots of jumps and twists and turns, quite literally. It shows how cheerleading holds up a mirror against life -- jump, fall, get up, repeat
'Cheer' (Netflix)
'Cheer' (Netflix)

Greg Whitley's 'Cheer,' a six-episode docu-series that follows the lives of cheerleaders is anything by cheerful. That's not to say it doesn't offer moments of fun. It's a good mix.

A group of people jumping into the air and falling back into place, at times even out of line, hurting and later picking themselves up, 'cheer' holds a mirror against life and its many challenges and how they shape us and our future. 

What brightens the plot is the young bunch of aspiring cheerleaders, who enroll themselves in Navarro College -- known for holding the highest score in the NCA College Nationals history -- in the hope of a flourishing career in the sport. They have on display infectious energy and a strong willingness to get their moves in sync with the count. Talk about single-minded focus!

Today, it's celebrated and finds itself to be a part of regular conversations but cheerleading never got off to a flying start. It was considered a little show put up intermittently to cheer the players and crowd present at the arena.

Interestingly, the idea of it has changed over the years with youngsters looking at it as a full-fledged dream and they have Monica Aldama to thank for it. 'Cheer' closely knits Monica's story, her rise to the top and how she made a name for herself in the cheerleading world.

As head coach of Navarro College for 24 years, Monica has trained and made top cheerleaders and in 'Cheer' she is all set to repeat history with a new bunch -- top 20 -- who will be on the mat and competing at the NCA College Nationals, Daytona Beach, Florida. 

It's not easy and with a few benched owing to practice sessions, the journey gets tougher for her. But she knows what she wants from her cheerleaders and that's what makes her so successful.

It's not that Navarro never lost titles -- Monica believes setbacks happen and one has to come back stronger from it, that's the only way to win. Young college kids can be vulnerable and there's no easy way to get them to believe in themselves one more time, but Monica does it effortlessly in the way she gives them space and approaches with the sanest of advice for her students.

She has a clear understanding of a teenager's emotions and never oversteps, which makes her bond with them even stronger and it's beautifully captured in one of the later episodes, during which two of her cheerleaders breakdown. 

What's best about the docu-series is it never pretends to document emotions by adding a background score and slow-motion montage to elicit a response from the audience. Instead, it focusses on presenting raw footage that tapes real expressions.

In one of the scenes, we are shown a student vapidly staring into a distance, immersed in her thoughts, which are keeping her out of practice sessions. The camera person cleverly tapes her loose body language, which is indicative of her disinterest in what was going on in front of her. And all of this, without the daily soap drama. Clever work!

Even though everyone had their tumbling skills on point, Gabi Butler, Morgan Simianer, Lexi Brumback, La'Darius Marshall, and Jerry stole the show with their moving storylines.

Morgan grew up without her parents. They split when she and her brother were little and has had a strained relationship with her father since. Her grandparents took them in, giving them a life they deserved and possibly wanted.

Gabi was unsure if she wanted to be a part of the championship but had to because her parents wanted her to. La'Darius was once called "fruity" for wanting to be a part of the cheerleading squad.

Lexi has been a high-school dropout and for her to be a part of such a huge name is in itself a big deal, and Jerry has battled weight issues to be where he stands today. Champions already!

Navarro won, their hard work and over 2 months of rigorous rehearsals of the routine paid off. Usually, we'd expect a camera run down busily alongside a panel of people who cannot contain their excitement.

But what we get is moments of quiet. The show captures the silent tears of joy and excitement as the cheerleaders celebrate their win with the waves and their loved ones sink in their seats with a sense of relief. 

'Cheer' is a delightful watch, but also not for the faint-hearted. Lots of jumps and twists and turns, quite literally.