The Unicorn Scale: D.E.B.S.
D.E.B.S. may stand for Discipline, Energy, Beauty, and Strength but when I hear the name I think Queer Cinema Masterpiece. That of course doesn’t mean the 2004 film has this Unicorn Scale in the bag—let’s dive past the SPOILER LINE to find out where D.E.B.S. ranks.
A secret paramilitary academy has embedded a test within the SAT (sorry midwesterners!) to identify high schoolers’ ability to lie, cheat, fight, and kill. If you want a superior spy, they’ve got to have these four qualities from the jump. Our reticent lead, Amy Bradshaw, is the literal poster girl for the post-secondary training school, having received a perfect score. The film opens with her mid-breakup from her boyfriend of eight months, Bobby. Enter BFF Max Brewer, motivated and motivating squad leader; Janet, overeager and everpresent; and Dominique, cigarette on the lips, good with the quips.
As they speed towards breakfast, Amy declares she has broken up with Bobby because he’s “boring” and she “wants to be in love.” Over breakfast, courtesy of The Holland Taylor as headmaster Ms. Petrie, we’re introduced to the person Amy is destined to fall for: the purported Big Bad. And SHE’S A LADY.
What I Liked
The cast is perfect. The Goods are great: Holland Taylor delivers “Was that in the speech” and I’m on the floor; Jennifer Carpenter’s cameo as “Hysterical Student” was probably how she got her role on Dexter; Michael Clarke Duncan has immeasurable patience with these girls and every one of the main squad four: Sara Foster (Amy), Meagan Good (Max), Devon Aoki (Dominique), and Jill Ritchie (Janet) embodied their roles with fervor. The Bads are almost better: from Jessica Cauffiel fully dedicated as failed blind date Ninotchka Kaprova to Jimmi Simpson nailing every line as Scud to Jordana Brewster as Lucy Diamond taking every scene with a gentle command.
There is a lot of plaid and turning expectations on their head “because love is harder than crime.” The chemistry between Foster and Brewster is immediate and palpable and FUN. And of course Amy is writing a term paper about Lucy Diamond for her Capes and Capers: Gender Reconstruction and the Criminal Mastermind course. She was good at overanalyzing her lady-date’s thoughts and feelings before she even knew she was into lady-dating!
There are jokes and delights around every corner. The pace keeps a tension between the two leads. The soundtrack is real decent. Over a decade later and “Take Me To Backseat” still makes my playlists.
What I Didn’t Like
As usual, it would’ve been nice for bisexuality to be named. But Amy did exclaim she’s “not gay!” and I will take that. If the movie were made today I would hazard there would be far less reliance on guns. Seeing femmes so tough was enjoyable, but the characters could have benefitted from bringing in other gender presentations. And though most of the jokes were solid, the movie receives a demerit for an ableist slur 43 minutes in.
This is a good movie if you’re in the mood to fall in love, to have a laugh, to not take anything too seriously. And the main character just happens to be a bi perfect spy who would rather be in art school in Spain with her criminal mastermind lover. May we all drive off on the arm of a gorgeous badass to a sunrise in bi colors. D.E.B.S. earns a solid three unicorns, and all of my little nostalgic heart.