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Film / Death of a Cheerleader

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Death of a Cheerleader is a 2019 Lifetime Made-for-TV Movie. It's a remake of 1994's A Friend To Die For, which became a popular rerun for Lifetime under the Retronym Death of a Cheerleader, so they used that title for the remake.

As with the earlier movie, it's a loose fictionalization of the 1984 murder of high school sophomore Kirsten Costas by her classmate Bernadette Protti, a crime that resident school Emo Teen Nancy Kane was briefly suspected of until Protti confessed. This movie is actually set as a period piece in 1984, and expands the role of the wrongly-blamed girl (Monica in the 1994 movie, Nina here), while giving all the characters new names and some characterization changes.

Hollybrook High School student Bridget Moretti (Aubrey Peeples) is a somewhat dorky girl who gets invited to join the Bobettes, an elite sorority-esque group at the school, along with pretty and popular Kelly Locke (Sarah Dugdale). Nina Miller (Morgan Taylor Campbell) is also invited but turns down the invitation. While Bridget views Kelly as the ideal of what she wants to be, Nina regards Kelly as exactly what she doesn't want to be; she dyes her hair and starts taking on an edgy persona, which attracts ridicule from Kelly. Hurting from her rejection from the cheer squad (among other disappointments), Bridget becomes desperate to strike up a friendship with Kelly and makes up a phony party invitation to lure her out of the house. Once Kelly figures out the truth, she escapes, but Bridget follows and eventually stabs Kelly. The cops focus on Nina, who has a solid alibi for the night, except she lied about it to avoid getting in trouble with her mom. Bridget becomes an emotional wreck once the police start to close in on her.

Death of a Cheerleader features most of the same tropes as A Friend to Die For, but adds these:

  • Adaptational Explanation: Among other things from the original movie, Kelly's pot-smoking and Bridget's negative reaction to it get a more logical explanation—Kelly, who doesn't really seem like someone who'd use drugs, says she only recently took up marijuana as a way to calm down amid her hectic schedule, while Bridget's issue with it is that she's worried her parents will smell the pot in the car after she gets home.
  • Adaptational Nice Guy/Adaptational Villainy: The murderer and the victim have subtly different characterizations here, probably in response to criticism from people who knew Kirsten Costas saying that the original seemed to vilify her and blame the victim. Rather a bullying Alpha Bitch, Kelly is a focused, achievement-oriented girl whose main sins are being a bit aloof and Innocently Insensitive, while Bridget gets an Adaptational Angst Upgrade, as more of a neurotic ticking time bomb.
  • Adaptation Name Change: Everyone gets renamed here.
  • The Alibi: Bridget falsely claims to have been babysitting the night of the murder. Nina also lies about where she was that night, but to avoid getting in trouble. She claimed to have been out at a movie, but was really cavorting with a boy from out of town.
  • Ascended Extra: Monica in the earlier film is basically just there to get picked on by Stacy and get blamed for the murder. Her 2019 equivalent Nina narrates the story and is presented as a Foil to Bridget, as a character who gets the same opportunities as her but shuns popularity.
  • Brilliant, but Lazy: Nina is a classic underachiever, apparently thinking she's sticking it to the school's high-achievement culture.
  • Composite Character: Jamie, the Innocent Beta Bitch from the 1994 version, gets combined with Jill (the friend of Angela, Bridget's 1994 equivalent) into Bobettes member Trish here.
  • Darker and Edgier: This movie tries to be more realistic than the earlier movie, with more of a focus on Bridget's personality breakdown and her motives.
  • Emo Teen/Goth: We see Nina go from "normal" to an edgy, rebellious girl, making her the subject of gossip among the other girls.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Nina, a secondary character, narrates the story in a somewhat Fauxlosophic way.
  • I Just Want to Be You: Kelly accuses Bridget of having this attitude during their big confrontation before her murder. Considering Bridget's characterization, she's not exactly wrong.
  • Important Haircut: Nina goes from a basic dark-haired look to a spiky blonde dye-job.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: Kelly may be a somewhat snobbish Alpha Bitch, but she's not exactly wrong to consider Nina's Implied Death Threat (writing a message to Kelly saying she "wants to see her blood drip") sick. And while she could've been more considerate with Bridget during their big fight, she's not exactly wrong to say Bridget is more interested in being Kelly (i.e. successful and popular) rather than being Kelly's friend.
  • Light Feminine and Dark Feminine: Blonde, popular Kelly is Light, brooding introvert Bridget is Dark, as is Goth girl Nina. Nina even draws this contrast in her narration, noting that the school wanted her to be the murderer, since it conforms to their stereotypes to have the Goth kill the cheerleader.
  • No Communities Were Harmed: The setting of the actual case (Miramonte High School in Orinda, California) is turned into Hollybrook High in the fictional town of Colina.
  • Perky Goth: As opposed to the sullen Monica in the earlier version, Nina is bubbly and friendly up until the murder.
  • Out of Focus: Angela's parents and sister are important side characters in the 1994 version, but Bridget's family are only minor characters here.
  • Remake Cameo: Kellie Martin, the murderer Angela in the 1994 movie, plays an FBI agent helping with the case. This leads to some Leaning on the Fourth Wall moments when the agent talks about Bridget and her possible motivations, and goes through the FBI profile of the killer, since she's describing a character that she once played.
  • School Clubs Are Serious Business: The Larks, the club that the main characters belonged to, was more of a minor subplot in the 1994 version. Here, the equivalent, the Bobettes, is a big part of the story, as it's Bridget's major bit of social capital in the school, but it's portrayed as not being enough for her. She accepted the Bobettes' invitation after being rejected by a similar, more elite group.
  • Vomit Discretion Shot: Bridget suffers Stress Vomit as the police investigate the murder, and is shown throwing up in the school toilet, but we only see the back of her head.