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:: Girlfight

It’s not hard to see why this film was this year’s co-winner of the Grand Jury Prize in the Sundance Film Festival dramatic competition. From first-time director Karyn Kusama, “Girlfight” is a well thought and emotionally satisfying film. It’s rewarding in the sense that we see the strength of character by a person who takes control of their destiny when seemingly set for a disastrous outcome.

A would-be girl boxer, Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodriguez), is in frequent trouble at school, even just prior to her graduation, and has a habit of getting into fights. In a demerit points system, she is one point away from being expelled. She will pick a fight with manipulative popular girls to defend the honour of others who don’t want defending. Diana’s home life is also troubled. Since the death of her mother, there has been a feeling of resentment between Diana and her father (Paul Calderon). She becomes captivated by the sport of boxing after her brother Tiny (Ray Santiago) is forced into it by his father. Soon she is channelling her hostility and energy into the sport and therefore becomes less disruptive at school. The opposite applies at home. Diana’s relationship with her father edges closer to violent proportions. 

This is an interesting exercise by the director in raising the spectre of women’s boxing into the public arena. Boxing is rarely seen as a positive thing, with many instances of corruption. However, as we have seen with several classic boxing movies over the past fifty years, such stories demonstrate a positive aspect in helping to reinforce an idea of getting people off the streets and giving them a purpose. The characters are real and the victor’s identity, contrary to similar movies, is in doubt. It’s more about Diana succeeding in life rather than winning a boxing match.

The subplot of Diana developing a relationship with a male boxer, Adrian (Santiago Douglas), could have thrown a wayward wire into the film’s context. But Kusama sensitively handles it in playing the situation out as if in real life. There are some great close-up shots of Diana. Her eyes are filled with determination and adds to the film’s impact. The fights in the ring are increasingly dynamic and the camera shots are excellent. Naturally, Diana, as a young attractive woman, encounters elements of sexism. But Kusama ignores the pros and cons of whether women should box and concentrates on Diana coming to feel as though she belongs in the ring.

“Girlfight” belongs to Michelle Rodriguez. She gives a compelling performance. She has indicated that she wishes to be an action hero. In this film, she accomplishes the feat wonderfully. The film takes a familiar, yet fresh, view on the underdog status, in true classic Hollywood style. It’s sharply directed and never dull. The first time director and novice actress deliver the goods and it’s one of the best films of 2000.