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The nonbinary director, D.W. Waterson, wanted to make the kind of film they wished they had seen growing up in a hockey-obsessed household in Canada. Which may explain why an earnest teen spirit seems to be alive and somersaulting in “Backspot,” a cheer squad tale offering plenty of life lessons.

A queer protagonist with pom-poms is not a cinematic first. (Remember the comedy “But I’m a Cheerleader”?) The double full twist with “Backspot” is that the writer, Joanne Sarazen, and Waterson (who edited and scored the film), don’t center the coming-of-age drama in coming-out trauma.

From the get-go, Riley (Devery Jacobs of “Reservation Dogs”) and her girlfriend, Amanda (Kudakwashe Rutendo), laugh, canoodle and walk to practice hand in hand. Being queer in high school is not where the movie’s lessons lie.

Instead, “Backspot” confronts mental health issues: Riley anxiously pulls out her eyebrows, has panic attacks and aches for the approval of Eileen (Evan Rachel Wood), her new coach. As the Thunderhawks’ trainer, Wood keeps her jawline taut chomping gum. Her implacable expression registers near-constant displeasure with her three eager new recruits: Riley, Amanda and Rachel (Noa DiBerto). After all, the team has only two weeks before the cheerleading championships!

Not unlike its protagonist, “Backspot” initially tries too hard to be worthy of the genre in which “Bring It On” still reigns supreme. But something shifts emotionally for the anxious teen, and for the film, when Riley finds Eileen’s assistant coach, Devon (Thomas Antony Olajide) side-gigging as a go-go dancer.

Its early execution strains and wobbles some, but “Backspot” sticks its landing.

Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 33 minutes. In theaters.

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