Female boxing puts on the cinematic gloves in Karyn Kusama’s major debut effort, Girlfight. Kusama gets in the ring to take on the dangerously cliché-clogged genre of the sports film and manages to dodge nearly all the body hits to score a knock out - and I’ll quit with the boxing analogies there.With the boxing film you of course can’t go pass Raging Bull, and everyone remembers Rocky. The former was a cinematic study of the physical craft while the latter was a splatter-pulp-fest. Girlfight does something else by getting more into the mindset of the boxer.
Girlfight tells the story of Diana (Rodriguez), a girl with a violent temper who is heading for trouble if she doesn’t start doing something constructive with her life. In this excellent film, Diana turns her attention and frustrations towards boxing where she meets up with trainer Hector (Tirelli) and another boy at their gym, Adrian (Douglas), who Diana will have battles of several different kinds.
Girlfight manages to avoid most of the clichés of sports films (the triumph/loss of the new/old guy and the business behind it, sums up most sports films) by dealing with the relatively new sport of female and ‘gender blind’ boxing and the tricky issues that arise because of it. There is the well used ‘girls can’t do that’ thing, but it is only a minor part of the film.
While the Kusama script starts slowly showing us the life of Diana in the stark and grim world of Brooklyn, it really turns it on in the second half as we see Diana develop from a directionless and angry-about-it school girl to a focused and angry-about-it boxer.
Despite all the misery about, there is also a lot of humour in the film.
Production designer Stephen Beatrice and Patrick Cady’s cinematography keeps things suitable grim in the squalor of the poorer parts of Brooklyn. Rodriguez is very good as Diana, making her convincingly confused, angry and frustrated. She obviously put in a lot of effort to build herself up to look like a toned boxer – a sport that she has never done before. Indeed if her efforts were an Olympic sport she would surely earn the praise of GOLD! SILVER! BRUCE! MacAvaney. Whilst Tirelli also does an excellent natural performance as Hector. It is Diana’s relationship with Hector, Adrian and her father (Calderon), that are at the heart of this film.This film has already picked up a boxing glove full of awards from Sundance and Cannes and deservedly so. Girlfight is an accomplished, thoughtful and well-made effort.