Glove Story

Girlfight is now playing in theaters nationwide.





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I've seen all five Rocky movies - twice. I own three posters, one

movie and one book on Muhammad Ali. I watch De La Hoya matches on

Pay-Per-View. What more could I be missing about the world of boxing?

Plenty.

Don't expect to see a conventional boxing movie in Karyn Kusama's

Girlfight. Although the idea of personal and physical transformation

is a favorite theme, Kasuma's milking of an old subject to produce new

material is remarkable. That's why this movie is about a lot more than

boxing.

At the heart of the story is Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodriguez), an

unsmiling, violence-prone teenager who feels misunderstood by those around

her. Her teachers don't know what to do with her (and her violent outbursts

at school); her father sees almost completely through her; even her best

friend doesn't pretend to know what's wrong with her. Diana is an angry,

solitary soul in her Brooklyn projects neighborhood, with very little going

her way. No wonder she lashes out at the heights of her anger.

One day, however, opportunity knocks in the form of boxing, and Diana

nabs it. While running an errand for her father in a dark, dank athletic

club, Diana stumbles on sweaty, well-muscled men boxing. Almost immediately

you see a glint forming in her eye - Diana has found her niche. Only after

she bare-fists a punk messing with her younger brother, however, do

trainers take any notice of her.

Diana is aware of her natural proclivity for boxing, but she

must convince trainer Hector (Jaime Tirelli) to train her. Hector dismisses

her, proclaiming that boxing is not for women. She wouldn't have the money

to pay him anyway. Diana, however, isn't deterred. She finds the money

(through dubious means), and her persistence is catching to Hector. When he

takes her to watch a professional boxing match, we glimpse a rare moment

for Diana - she smiles.

Diana's training is gruesome, but like a natural fighter she

transforms work and pain into motivation and determination. She quickly

discovers that boxing and her out-of-control eruptions at school are two

completely separate things. She learns to channel her emotions and stay out

of trouble outside the ring.

Day by day, Diana's technique and endurance improves and she

gets serious about her training. Her coach starts believing in her, and

thanks to the experimental gender-blind program at the athletic club where

she trains, she begins ascending toward the finals in her division.

Red gloves and sweat aren't the only things that catch Diana's

eye at the gym, however. Adrian (Santiago Douglas), with his green eyes,

strong jaw and spectacular forearms is a sight to behold. Diana is as taken

with him as he is intrigued by her. The two develop a flirtatious,

easy-going friendship that, one night, blossoms into something more.

Unfortunately, Adrian doesn't think women should box either.

"It's a dangerous sport," he says.

"I didn't make the cheerleading team," Diana replies dryly. For

the first time, we witness Diana's softer, more vulnerable side. At least

with Adrian she puts her guards down.

At its core, Girlfight questions conventional standards

of femininity and masculinity. Compared to Diana, with her ripped body and

clean-sweated face, the other girls in the film seem ridiculously

overdressed and overly made-up. Diana compares herself to other girls, like

Karina (Belqui Ortiz), Adrian's "sometimes" girlfriend, and doesn't think

of herself as "prime cut." When we compare her to other girls however, she

doesn't come off as less feminine at all. If anything, her remarkable will

and determined attitude will make you want to shout, "You go, girl!"

On the other hand, Diana's father, Sandro (Paul Calderon), is the

most striking example of old-school interpretations of what it means to be

a guy or a girl. He enrolls her brother Tiny (Ray Santiago) in boxing

lessons with Hector but dismissively asks Diana, "Would it kill you to wear

a skirt once in a while?"

For obvious reasons, Diana keeps her lessons a secret from her

father, but one night, after he has discovered her, she takes her anger and

frustration at the death of her mother out on him.

Yes, this is Michelle Rodriguez' first movie. Don't take her

for a wispy neophyte, however - this girl kicks ass. She was also a walk-on

for the role with zero acting experience behind her. She got so good during

her four-month training period for the part of Diana that her trainers

wanted her to go pro. She resisted, she says in an interview, because "I

want to keep my teeth."

I didn't expect to be awed by this movie the way I was. First

time writer-director Karyn Kusama is truly a visionary because the casting,

cinematography and acting all work collaboratively. Most first-time

directors don't manage to get this down, but Kusama (herself a former

boxer) knows what she's doing.

She and director of photography Patrick Cady did a brilliant

job of making the fighting sequences look and feel real (although almost

all boxing done for movies is altered to look good on screen). They gave

the film a documentary quality with their use of hand-held cameras, the

film's grainy, rough texture and the glamorous treatment of ordinary

subject matter.

Two gloved thumbs up.

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