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Chick Fight
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by Rob Gonsalves

"A swing and a miss."
2 stars

A movie about a secret fight club for women to work out their rage probably shouldn’t be as bland as "Chick Fight."

The scenes in which the women punch, kick, head-butt and choke out their fellow women express a kind of ironic liberation that the by-the-numbers script (by Joseph Downey) doesn’t really explore. Chick Fight has a raft of female producers or executive producers (including two of its stars, Malin Akerman and Bella Thorne), but is written and directed by men. Some would see no problem with this, as telling stories requires some degree of imagination and trying to see through the eyes of those unlike you. But we also miss what female creatives might have brought to this story. (Look, for example, at Karyn Kusama’s indie drama Girlfight from twenty years ago.)

Here, the trappings of a female fight club only set up a cute arc of triumph for the movie’s cutely downtrodden protagonist Anna (Akerman). Owner of a sinking coffee shop, Anna has more than enough anger and sorrow on her plate. Her car gets repossessed, the coffee shop goes up in flames, and her macho dad turns out to be bisexual. (Why? I dunno, except to give us a few scenes of Anna reacting to her dad’s sexuality with baffled acceptance.) Her cop friend Charleen (Dulcé Sloan) brings her to the underground fight club, where she runs afoul of the place’s resident heat-seeking missile Olivia (Thorne). We know the plot leads up to a climactic showdown between Anna and Olivia, just as we know Anna will spend many allegedly funny scenes training with drunken Jack (Alec Baldwin).

The cast, including Fortune Feimster and Alec Mapa, is diverse and funny and up for anything, but the script keeps letting them down. Various character revelations, like Olivia’s daytime identity and Anna’s connection to the club, just sort of lie there forgotten. After a while I began to wish Akerman and Thorne could have switched roles, since Thorne gets some slightly more interesting things to play and shows some outlaw charisma. But then Thorne would have been stuck with the uninspiring Anna, to whom Akerman brings little but a mild woe-is-me Cathy Guisewite vibe. Like Goldie Hawn’s Private Benjamin and countless others, Anna must grow up; she must become True Woman, spitting blood and taking punches. Akerman has an amiable but generally null presence; our only clue that she’s the star is that the movie focuses on her from frame one, but Thorne’s eccentric energy marks her as the film’s real star.

Too bad she’s thrown away as the Bad Girl who must be defeated by the Good Girl. Having women write and direct Chick Fight (lame title, guys) might have gone some way towards eliminating female clichés imagined from the outside. As it is, there’s a scene in which Anna takes a heavy ball to the crotch so she can go to the doctor (with what money?) and find out he’s the doctor from the fight club, so she can start a romance with him. There are so many more promising directions the movie could have gone other than providing Anna with a professional white boyfriend. (She’s surrounded by gayness, but is resolutely hetero.) Another revelation involving the club means that Anna’s money problems get handwaved away. The coincidences stack up, until we feel the narrative pushing us around.

There isn’t even a decent winding-down scene between Anna and Olivia; the latter is brushed aside, as if Bella Thorne had grown tired of the story and gone home early. Given what we discover about Anna and the legacy she’s a part of, a more intriguing comedy would have pitted our dark heroine Olivia against Anna the blonde brat born into the world that Olivia had to scratch and kick to be included in. Chick Fight may lead to more than a few discussions more thoughtful than the movie itself. Of course, it’s only conceived as a dumbass comedy with a light glaze of you-go-grrl empowerment. But it’s hard to believe that so many talented folks bought into something so vanilla, so incurious, so dedicated to banality.

And it needn’t have gone in a serious direction; women as much as men deserve wild and twisted comedies in which they behave abominably. But that’s exactly what "Chick Fight" isn’t. It might as well be about a book club.

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originally posted: 11/12/20 11:12:25
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