minutes into GIRLFIGHT, I felt sure the
world was going to think I was a major
asshole after reading my review. GIRLFIGHT
has been raking in the positive buzz lately,
as Sundance Film Festival winners are
wont to do (Best Directing and shared
Grand Jury Prize). Itís a story anyone
should feel good rooting for: Inner-city
high school girl with violence issues
defies her father by taking up boxing
at the all-male neighborhood gym, where
she gains discipline, confronts her anger,
fights for sexual equality, and learns
the meaning of respect. So I was sweating
when, after 20 minutes, all I could think
was "Boy, this sure is hackneyed."
Luckily for my reputation as a sensitive
male, the movie got better.
Guzman (Rodriguez) is a proudly fierce
girl. Her father Sandro (Calderon) forces
her brother Tiny (Santiago) to take boxing
lessons in order to equip him for life
on the streets, but all Tiny wants to
do is listen to classic jazz and draw
pictures in his room. Meanwhile, Diana
is the one getting into fights in school.
She begins to take boxing lessons without
her fatherís knowledge, taking up with
the gruff-but-kind boxing instructor Hector
(Tirelli) and falling for sexy male boxer
Adrian (Douglas). (The movieís biggest
failing is that Diana never gets to yell
"ADRIAN!" in a slurred voice,
over and over.)
far nothing exceptional, I know. The dialogue
is fairly tame, and the characters fairly
stock. With only one exception, they all
fall into the "X with a heart of
gold" category. Watching all of this
being set up, I was sure I knew exactly
how the rest of the movie would go. And
for the first half of the movie, I was
right. Luckily, things got interesting
in the second half.
soul of this movie is the love story between
Diana and Adrian, and itís here that the
movie pleasantly began to thwart my expectations.
Writer-director Kusama chooses unconventional
story directions, and Dianaís boxing matches
start to have an emotional weight far
beyond what you see in your average boxing
movie. It becomes less about the competition
and more about the relationship between
the fighters. The movieís climactic fight
is extremely gripping, because we are
emotionally invested in everyone involved.
wouldnít have guessed this was writer-director
Kusamaís first film. Her story is heartfelt
and convincing. As a director, she manages
to make a dank boxing gym seem both fierce
and comforting. The visuals are full of
grays, browns and muted colors, but Kusama
and cinematographer Cady somehow make
them vibrant and alive. The movieís pace
is quick but relaxed. Stephan Beatriceís
production design is uncluttered, while
remaining realistic. Musically, Theodore
Shapiroís neo-classical underscoring isnít
what would have occurred to most composers,
and yet it works wonderfully, raising
the quality of the whole movie about two
Kusama falls down is in her presentation
of extreme conflict; as a result, it all
feels a little bit too "safe."
Diana takes up boxing to work through
her anger, but although the fights are
well-staged, they never quite reach the
animalistic pitch that makes us feel like
her aggressions are being loosed. More
damagingly, Dianaís conflicts within her
family arenít convincing at all. This
is due mainly to the tepid portrayal of
her supposedly abusive father, Sandro.
Kusama and the miscast Calderon both seem
afraid to make him a genuinely dangerous
person, and over time this becomes extremely
damaging to the believability of Dianaís
family dynamics. I felt like Kusama had
trouble getting her actors to reach truly
rest of the movie makes up for all of
this, though. The other actors are good,
and Douglas and Rodriguez smolder convincingly,
in a high school sort of way. But special
credit goes to Rodriguez in her debut
film. She really owns the role of Diana.
Although she never reaches the peaks of
emotion I would have wished for, I credit
that to her inexperience, and I believe
her to be entirely capable. She is compelling
to watch, and I look forward to seeing
whatever she does next.
the same goes for Kusama. Itís an auspicious
debut effort. Although flawed by its efforts
to keep it safe, I got emotionally involved
with this movie without feeling manipulated.
When it was over, I wanted to see what
happened next, and thatís always a good
sign. GIRLFIGHT left me with a fresh feeling,
and thatís well worth the price of admission.
I am a sensitive male, after all.
ARBEITMAN: Thespian Extraordinaire
ACTOR! SUPERHERO! ALL-AROUND NICE GUY!