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Girlfight: A troubled young woman finds salvation in the boxing ring

Usually, no matter how good a movie is, it's nice when the credits roll and you can head out into reality again, hopefully carrying the best of the film with you. It happens with books too; you know it's been inspiring, moving, and intriguing when you get a pang of regret as you close up the pages. That's how it feels when Girlfight ends. The film is so engaging that I could have stayed absorbed in its celluloid world for days

All the hype about first-timer (and John Sayles protégée) Karyn Kusama's boxing tour de force and Michelle Rodriguez's incendiary acting debut is c.pletely legit, which is saying a lot since most hype is just some artificial, manufactured marketing cooked up by the Hollywood machine. But this is for real. Rodriguez plays Diana Guzman, an embittered, motherless, Latina teenager who's unharnessed anger causes her to beat the hell out of just about anyone who pushes her buttons. When Diana goes to the gym (not the sauna and c.plimentary towel-type gym; this is the blood on the floor and dust on the windows variety) to pay for her younger brother's boxing lessons, she finds a world that embraces anger and channels it into a primal, constructive act. It immediately makes sense to her, and even though she's the only female around (besides the occasional visit from the male boxers' trophy girlfriends), Diana craves the immediacy and release of what she sees.

Of course, the trainers laugh, scoff, and send her away. Her nerdy brother is mortified. And there's no way she can tell her penny-pinching, equally bitter dad about wanting to be a pro-fighter. But Diana gets the money, first by stealing, and eventually from her brother who gives up his own boxing lessons to pay for his sister's. She then convinces an open-minded coach named Hector (Jaime Tirelli) to train her. And of course, there's a love interest named Adrien (Santiago Douglas, who's c.plete naturalness on camera might just floor you). Diana's newfound world transforms her from a pissed-off, hate-filled kid into a self-assured young woman. It's the standard formula for every boxing/sports/underdog flick, but Kusama's skilled writing and directing jettison a formula that could have easily deteriorated into clichés and stereotyped melodrama into a totally unique, beautifully crafted story.

Kusama's deep perception of human nature keeps all those moments that could very easily have come across as heavy-handed cheesiness (metaphors about boxing and love, the nature of woman vs. man etc., which run rampant through the film) into subtle meditations that are moving because of their s.plicity.

Boxing has always been a director's chance to show off. Think Raging Bull, and, yes, Rocky. It's graceful, brutal, sensual, as if an artist is turning a life drawing into 3 dimensions, and Kusama, with the help of composer Theodore Shapiro, proves her artistry with these scenes. Shapiro's score is full of atmospheric Flamenco sounds, and without it, Girlfight might have lost a lot of its emotional power. But thankfully, that's not the case, and the result is a moving, raw piece of filmmaking.



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Girlfight
Rated R
1 hour 43 minutes

Elisa Bocanegra
Jaime Tirelli
Michelle Rodriguez
Ray Santiago

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