Reviewed by: Michael Karounos
|Featuring:||Missy Peregrym, Vanessa Lengies, Jeff Bridges, Nikki SooHoo, Maddy Curley|
|Distributor:||Buena Vista Pictures|
“Stick It” is a gymnastics movie in which a rebellious former gymnast gets in trouble with the law, is sentenced to do her time at a hard-core gym, and redeems herself after costing her team the gold medal at the World Championships two years before.
The movie is written and directed by Jessica Bendinger who also wrote “Bring It On” and similarly hip-hops a white cultural milieu in “Stick It”. The movie opens with Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) dressed boy-like in an ominous hoody doing outrageous BMX stunts that have her fleeing from the police with whom, she says, she has an “ongoing flirtation.” As she runs away to a rap-like soundtrack, she strips off the hood, helmet, and gloves, revealing that what lies beneath the image of rebellion is a pretty girl with pigtails.
This is the governing metaphor of the movie: beneath every white girl is a rebel who is yearning to talk Truth to Authority, whether it be police, coaches, parents, or judges. Every surface in her room—the dresser, the desk, the posters, etc.—is tagged with gang-like graffiti to show her rejection of her vanilla suburban culture.
Haley is sent to do her time at a cavernous gym where only eight other gymnasts are training. Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges), is supposedly a tyrannical coach with a reputation for breaking his athletes, but Jeff Bridges can’t convincingly portray that type of coach. Rather, he has prostituted his ideals and is interested only in milking rich parents of their money. Haley’s idealism transforms him by film’s end and shows him to have the proverbial heart of gold. The mischaracterization of Bridge’s character as a tough guy rather than a greedy idolator is confusing and seems to reflect a tension between the script as written and Bridge’s interpretation, which is truer to his personality.
The film’s style consists of MTV-like editing and a soundtrack which would be tiresome to anyone under 18 were it not for the one truly excellent aspect of the movie—the gymnasts. I saw “Stick It” with a former top gymnast who owns one of the largest gyms in the country. When I asked him what was the best part of the movie he echoed Maddy Curley’s (Mina Hoyt in the movie) interview comment that it accurately reflected how hard gymnasts’ work.
That may be true to an experienced eye, but what a layperson sees in the movie is not how hard gymnasts work, but how hard they fall. Everyone has seen a single gymnast hit the mat hard in televised competitions, but to see a well-edited series of violent slams truly conveys how hard and how fast gymnasts are traveling when they hit something. It becomes apparent that only a human as compactly muscled and trained as a gymnast can survive such repeated poundings, and it gives the average viewer a new-found appreciation for the sport as requiring not just an extraordinary skill set, but a mental and physical toughness that is masked by the little girl appearances of the athletes.
Ultimately, the movie should have been about the gymnasts and the rewards of such brutal training, but writer/director Jessica Bendinger was so enamored with her agenda to undermine the authority of the white mothers and white judges with stereoptypical black music and attitude, that she disappoints audience expectations at the end of the movie by not allowing the gymnasts to show their stuff. Instead, she reduces these superb athletes to preening pout queens who awkwardly strut through routines that dancers can do better. This leaves the audience with a non-climax in which non-dancers perform in a non-meet. The final sequence reveals nothing so much as that Bendinger’s ego is bigger than the movie and bigger than gymnastics itself.
Had Bendinger been content to do a pure gymnastics film, without the amateurish swearing and posturing that infantilized rather than complimented these remarkable young women, it could have been a memorable movie for its genre. But as seems so often the case with movies these days, politics creeps in and instead we get a contrived ending in which the most individualistic athletes in the world, who spent many years training six hours a day, unionize and go on strike. It’s an absurd ending to an absurd premise between which we get some well-shot sequences of top-notch athletes.
Maddy Curley’s performance was, as one would expect of an excellent athlete, pitch-perfect, and her bright-eyed portrayal of an intense gymnast was a welcome relief from watching Missy Peregrym being forced to strike the same note of rebelliousness throughout the movie. Peregrym does what she can with the role and delivers several lines with genuine comedic timing, but for too much of the movie she is required to be glum and sullen.
The movie has numerous instances of swearing, but the most egregious aspect of it is the tiresome portrayal of all the mothers as shrill, superficial has-been beauties who care about nothing so much as their own enhanced busts and egos. One such mother would have been enough, but every mother was portrayed that way. Since the movie doesn’t show a single positive relationship with a mother and a daughter, its message in that regard is that the gang is the family and the family is the gang. Reject authority; break rules; do what you want, because the only one who understands you is other teenagers. It’s a childish message, it doesn’t do the athletes justice, and it completely undermines the biblical injunction to “Honor your father and mother.” Given how much mothers do in this world, is this really the message we want to give our teenage daughters and sons?
The movie’s PG-13 rating is well-earned and families with children below that age who are sensitive to bad language and negative family stereotyping should avoid it. Those who are interested in a revealing look at how hard gymnasts train (and fall) might consider seeing it, as long as they don’t expect a gymnastics competition at the end.
Violence: Minor / Profanity: Moderate / Sex/Nudity: None
See our interview with a co-star of this film, Maddy Curley.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.