Enjoyed Stand and Deliver? Well get ready to stand and deliver… an uppercut to the jaw! And are you prepared for a girl to come out fighting and go toe to toe with a man? Can this be? Women’s boxing? Let’s get ready to rumble!
Ahem. Girlfight would have you believe the rather commonplace sport of women’s boxing was a freakish thing, barely known in the real world. Never mind that women occasionally fight on the undercard for heavyweight title bouts. And never mind that boxing mini-stars like Mia St. John have graced the cover of Playboy. No, female boxing can’t be real, despite three international federations devoted to the sport.
But put all that aside for a moment. What we’re here for is what all good boxing movies have to give: that Rocky feeling. We want a story about a hard-luck champ trying to pull himself (er, or herself) up and out of the slums with nothing more than guts and spit. Star Michelle Rodriguez has plenty of both, imbuing her troubled Brooklyn teen Diana with enough bullish spirit to dub her an instant, um, Rockette.
Sadly, the bulk of Girlfight is heavy on the girl, light on the fight. It takes 30-plus minutes before Diana ever laces up a pair of gloves, not to mention the considerable wringing of hands over Diana’s poor school attitude, her relationship to her father (Paul Calderon), and a strained yet totally expected romance with rising amateur boxer Adrian (hmmmm…), played unevenly by Santiago Douglas. Fortunately, Rodriguez is such a scrappy charmer, she carries this picture entirely on her muscled shoulders, and I’d be remiss not to say she deserves early Oscar consideration. Get her moving and she’s a powerhouse, and the film flows with her.
The rest of the picture is not so fortunate. While Diana’s trainer Hector (Jaime Tirelli) performs admirably in his trainer role as the analogue of Rocky‘s Paulie, initially skeptical that a woman could fight but eventually pushing her to heights, the remainder of the cast feels plucked from, well, Brooklyn. This lends the picture some needed street cred (with Pulp Fiction bit player Calderon the only recognizable face in the cast). But it’s way too much, as the overall production suffers from an utter lack of competence in the editing department (no surprise: Plummy Tucker, a self-indulgent John Sayles collaborator, is responsible for the mess) and off-kilter photography that misses a lot more of the action than it captures.
However, easily the biggest problem with Girlfight is its length. At nearly two hours, the film is — quite literally — twice as long as it should have been. For comparison’s sake, that’s about four full-length boxing matches. Do the math.
Fortunately, Theodore Shapiro’s frantic piano score does a lot to assuage the damage, livening up the atmosphere considerably despite the pace. The movie also manages to float (like a butterfly) around the theme of boxing as the only way out of the hood for a lot of its denizens, though it never quite drives home the desperation of its characters, none of whom seem to have many genuine problems.
Girlfight is not a bad time, to be sure, but I have to say I was expecting something else. Oh well. It coulda been a contender.
You gotta fight for your right.