Go girl! Diana (Rodriguez) packs quite a punch.
dir-scr Karyn Kusama
with Michelle Rodriguez, Santiago Douglas, Jaime Tirelli, Ray Santiago, Paul Calderon, Elisa Bocanegra, Victor Sierra, Belqui Ortiz, Shannon Walker Williams, Alicia Ashley, JP Lipton, John Sayles
Columbia 99/US 4 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
A low-key, naturalistic coming-of-age drama, Girlfight brings to mind Saturday Night Fever in several ways as it centres on an ethnic New York community in which a teenager finds an unusual outlet for their internal angst. This time the community is Latino, the teen is a girl ... and the outlet is boxing. Despite the drawbacks of small-budget filmmaking, it's a compelling, engaging film with characters we can really care about.

Diana (Rodriguez) is an angry young woman! She picks fights with the school tart (Williams) and responds with surly insolence to her teachers (including Sayles, who's also one of the film's producers). She ignores her brainy little brother (Santiago) and openly defies her single dad (Calderon). Then she meets a boxing coach (Tirelli) and convinces him to secretly give her a shot. And--surprise, surprise--she's very good at it, which is a bit of a threat to her cocky sparring partner (Sierra), especially in the local "gender-blind" league. So what will her dad do when he finds out? And will her skills in the ring cause problems as she begins a relationship with another boxer-in-training (Douglas)?

Yes, Kusama's script has a very formulaic structure, with some pretty predictable relationships and characterisations. But as a director, Kusama guides her gifted cast to startlingly natural performances that overcome any limitations. These are real people we can engage with as they struggle on various levels to make sense of life and find a way to face the future. The earthy humour is nicely balanced by some gritty drama and the kinetic, exciting fight sequences. And the film's corny plot elements (grizzled coach, bitter dad, frustrated brother, budding romance, nemeses in and out of the ring, gym sloganeering, and so on) are easily offset by the films emotional complexity, especially as it approaches its finale.

[15--themes, language, boxing violence] 11.Aug.00
US release 29.Sep.00; UK release Feb.01

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall