Welcome to Sutton Grove. Even though it’s a small town in the Midwest, the high school girls who live there -- especially those on the cheerleading squad -- have big ambitions. And some of them will stop at nothing to get what they want, even if it means losing everything. As Addy Hanlon says, “It was f---ing beautiful until it went too far.”
‘There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenage girls.’
In a flash-forward, Addy Hanlon is driving her car slowly at night, trying to get a glimpse at a house on a suburban street. Her phone buzzes. She sees that not only has she gotten a string of texts from Beth Cassidy, but also there is blood on the screen and on her hand. Suddenly a hand slams down on the window and she jumps.
Young, Wild and Free
Three months before the flash-forward, it’s the end of the summer and best friends Beth Cassidy and Addy Hanlon are enjoying one last hurrah before junior year starts with a stolen 40 poured into their reusable water bottles. Hanging out on the hood of Beth’s car at the shopping mall parking lot, they watch as a classmate boards a bus for basic training, recruited to the Marines by Sarge Will. Beth wonders how hard it would be to seduce Sarge, cajoling Addy to take that bet, but Addy declines. Then they talk about the new cheer coach who’s taking over this year, Colette French. Beth, who has long been the squad captain, already seems to feel threatened.
New Sherriff in Town
At the first cheer practice, Colette French doesn’t waste any time establishing who’s in charge now. She puts the girls through their paces until they are sweating and whimpering. Unimpressed, Colette tells them that she doesn’t see a squad or her “Top Girl.” RiRi tells Coach that Beth has always been Top Girl. But Coach makes it clear that in her squad, “You have to earn your spot. You get strong, you rise. That’s how you get to regionals, become champions.”
After practice, instead of hanging with Beth, Addy has her mom, Faith, who’s a cop, come pick her up. Beth isn’t happy. This isn’t how it usually goes. With nothing else to do, Beth goes home. But in her very nice house, the expensive fridge is empty and her mother, Lana, is outside meditating, a.k.a. ignoring her daughter.
Addy and her neighbor and friend Slocum sit at Addy’s kitchen table studying, while Addy ignores texts from Beth. Addy tells her mom about how the new coach ripped them hard today, more in a pleased rather than a complaining way. The new coach has taken two squads to the state tournaments and if they win, maybe Addy can get a scholarship... Faith says that she dreams too big, just like her father, whose dreams of a football scholarship never materialized. But Addy is not deterred. She already seems to be a believer.
The “Bottom Feeder” Is Sent to the Top
At the next practice, after the squad shows Coach their pyramid with Beth steady and strong at the top, Colette says that it’s time to shake things up. She wants Tacy, who’s a freshman, to be the top. Tacy is as terrified as Beth is pissed. Surprising no one, Tacy chokes and falls backward. Beth smirks to Addy. Afterwards, Addy goes to see Colette in her office to warn her about Beth and her powerful father, Bert Cassidy, who also happens to be Tacy’s father and a “big dog” in Sutton Grove. Beth’s had a rough time. Her father lives across the street from Beth and Lana with Tacy and his new “sidepiece,” Tacy’s mother. Colette gets it, but Beth needs limits and Colette is giving them to her.
“Boxed-Wine and Attitude”
One night, Beth and Addy drive by Colette’s house and sneak a peek at Colette’s home life: Colette holding her young daughter Madison, her husband Matt nearby. Both girls are very curious about Coach, but for different reasons. Beth wonders why such a hot-shit coach would move back to a place only two towns away from where she grew up, while Addy seems to be mesmerized by Colette.
Both Colette and Matt know that the girls have driven by but don’t seem surprised. Matt then gives Colette a very expensive gift: a pair of sexy, red shoes. She worries that they can’t afford such extravagance but he says she deserves them because she sacrificed by moving back to where she started so he could take this job.
Side Step Then Backtuck
At school, Colette seems to get a text on her phone that makes her smile. She is then approached by RiRi’s mom, J.J. Curtis, a squad booster. J.J. offers to host a brunch for Colette. But Colette declines with the excuse that she has to stay focused on the game. When Colette sees Addy in the gym practicing her backtuck, she gives Addy a private coaching session. Then on the drive home, they talk more like friends than coach and student. Colette encourages Addy to go after Jordy Jones, a cute-ish guy on the track team, to have a little fun. Addy works up the nerve to ask Colette why she’s in Sutton Grove. Colette explains that her husband Matt had a big chance here after not having many, so she owed him. Colette recognizes that Addy is not like “all the others,” which seems like music to Addy’s ears.
A Different Kind of Competition
When the girls walk through the school hallways in their squad uniforms, they are stars. Beth and Addy notice that Sarge Will, the Marine Recruiter, is back. RiRi approaches him and puts her hand out for his business card then waves it triumphantly at Beth. RiRi took Beth’s bet to see who could seduce Sarge Will first since Addy wouldn’t. Then Beth gives Addy a hard time for not hanging with her. After Addy walks away, Beth spots Tristan. They sneak into the custodian supply closet to hook up but the whole thing isn’t doing it for her. When Beth gets home, she notices a man’s jacket on the couch and a check on the table. She bangs on her mother’s bedroom door. Bert, her father, comes out, shirt undone, making lame explanations. She yells at him to get out. Beth tells her mother she can’t wait to get out of Sutton Grove.
As the girls apply their glitter makeup for the first football game, Beth is a no show. Addy gets no response when she texts Beth to find out where she is. Out on the field, still no Beth and Coach is not happy. At halftime, Coach has the girls huddle up and gives them a pep talk. “You are the strongest, meanest, baddest women this town has ever seen. And you’re about to show everyone what you’re made of. You’re royalty. Make them bow down. Do me proud.” When Beth finally shows up, Coach announces that Tacy’s going to be top. Beth points out that as the Captain, she’s always Top Girl. Colette replies Top Girl is someone who shows up for every practice and every game, and no, we’re not doing captains anymore. It’s Colette’s squad now. During the routine, Beth and Addy are the rung of the pyramid under Tacy. Addy sees Beth dig her nails into Tacy’s leg. Addy struggles to bear all of Tacy’s weight so she doesn’t fall. And she doesn't! The crowd cheers. But Beth glares at Addy for her betrayal.
After Party, Adult Edition
At the local tavern, the cheer boosters gather to celebrate the squad, even though the football team lost the game. Colette, dressed to kill, is having a drink with Bert Cassidy and J.J. They are thrilled with how much she has done in just one week. With Tacy by his side, Matt gets up to the mic to address the crowd. He speaks about how so many American towns like theirs are struggling. They had to put their dream of a new stadium on hold. But tonight was a transformation. Tacy reveals the rendering of the new stadium on an easel. The stadium will help heal the town. When Matt finally arrives at the party, J.J. introduces herself to him. He tells her that he has just started as the project manager for the new stadium, so he doesn't yet know what it’s like working for Bert. J.J. lets it slip that Bert has had his eye on Colette since she took another school’s squad to state -- something that Matt didn’t seem to know. Matt approaches Bert and Colette. Matt says to Bert that he didn’t realize he followed Colette’s career so closely. Bert replies that he follows winners… and then he buys them.
After Party, High School Edition
Addy and RiRi ride with Beth in her Jeep, drinking and looking for fun… or trouble. Addy, a bit buzzed, spots Jordy Jones in the parking lot and tells Beth to pull over so they can pick him up. They go to Lanvers Peak, where their current and some former classmates are partying around a big bonfire, including Prine and Tibbs, now Marines. Addy and Jordy fool around against a tree. Meanwhile Beth takes a selfie of her cleavage and texts it to Sarge Will with a provocative invitation using Prine’s phone. A little while later, Beth has taken a gun out of Prine’s car and starts shooting it into the woods. While Addy tries to convince Beth to put the gun down, Sarge Will appears and moves in to wrest the gun out of Beth’s hand. After, he drives Addy and a sleeping Beth home. He asks if Beth will get in trouble with Coach and Addy says she will make sure she won’t.
That night, when Colette gets into bed, Matt is already under the covers, turned away from her. She says she was going to tell him that Bert recruited her first, not Matt. All Matt says is that she was right that they can’t afford the fancy shoes and turns off the light. Colette can’t sleep.
Caught in the Act
Beth stays over at Addy’s house. They’re in bed together, spooned, talking in the dark. Then Beth is suddenly out of bed looking for her phone. She must’ve left it at Lanvers Peak. When they go back up there, Beth’s phone isn’t the only thing they find. They spot a pickup truck and two people having sex in the front seat. It’s Sarge Will and Coach. Beth holds up her phone to take some video. Then Sarge and Colette see the girls. Colette locks eyes with Addy and shakes her head “no” before Addy runs after Beth crying, “We can’t say anything!” and tries to grab the phone away. “In the end I couldn’t stop any of it,” Addy says in voiceover.