Boxing Day, Round 3: Girlfight
We celebrate the greatest holiday known to (this) man with a pelicula of pugilistic pedigree. This time around, it’s the Ladies’ Night… to fight!
A lot of people feel like they took 2018 square on the chin. I know I do. But if there’s been a ray of hope, it’s been the fighters. And first and foremost amongst them have been women, especially women of color. With that in mind, I thought it only fitting to watch a film about a young Latinx looking to use the ring as a refuge from her difficult life.
Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodriguez) is a tough woman living a tough life in Brooklyn. Her penchant for lashing out with her fists has her in jeopardy of being expelled, and life at home is no easier. A serendipitous assignment to deliver goods to a gym her brother (Ray Santiago) boxes at finally shows Diana a way out. Her instructor Hector (Jaime Tirelli) begins the task of transforming this brawler into a boxer. Along the way, Diana begins to channel her anger, open up to others, and blaze a path for women in a male dominated sport.
Tale of the Tape
Let’s take a look at our Compubox numbers (aka my eyeballs) to see where Girlfight ranks compared to other boxing movies:
- Soundtrack: The soundtrack starts strong, then disappears. It rears it’s head a few times, most notably during actual fights, but a lot of this film is unscored. In addition to the score (instrumental Latin American music), we get a few hip hop numbers that play through ambient methods: a car radio, someone’s boombox, etc. It’s not bad, but the noticeable absence leaves the film feeling desaturated in places. The judges score: Going 1/2 the distance.
- The Training Montage(s): We get a few montages in Girlfight, notably when Diana is first getting in shape and right before her amateur debut. It’s solid stuff: roadwork, heavybag/speed bag, skipping rope, and sparring. It’s well presented and authentic, and you definitely see Michelle Rodgriquez get better and more fundamentally sound. At points she looks like the real deal. The Judges Score: Jabbing it till it’s arm falls off.
- The Fights: The fights in Girlfight are a mixed punching bag. Diana’s first fight is sloppy and emotional, her second one is very good, and her last fight is a mess. That the really good middle fight is the only one Diana fights against a female boxer might have something to do with it. I’m not sure if whoever choreographed the fights had a hard time doing mixed-sex fights, but it was disappointing to watch Diana go from unpolished to polished to unpolished again. It drains the amateur tournament arc of it’s power. The Judges Score: Loss by split decision.
Girlfight doesn’t quite know what it wants to say, or if it wants to say anything at all. As such it flits between being an observation of a girl growing up in a broken family, a chronicle of the early days of women in boxing, and a love story. All three are left unresolved at the end of the film, which makes Girlfight feel like a day in the life documentary.
As a faux documentary, Girlfight is alright. As a compelling narrative, the movie falls back on the romance between Diana and an up and coming featherweight named Adrian. And that romance can’t shoulder the weight. It’s not terrible, and it fits with the documentary nature of the film as we watch this emotionally stunted couple stumble and bumble through their feelings. But it isn’t terribly compelling, and the revelation at the end that the two must face each other in the finals lands without any real weight. It doesn’t help that the final fight is a poorly choreographed mess.
The acting is also raw and stumbling, but it usually feels natural and authentic to the piece. Rodriguez is prickly and short with her words, but it feels character driven rather than poorly acted. Santiago Douglas plays Adrian as a charming hood tough, someone you might expect to see in something like West Side Story (without the singing or camp). He too is at times emotionally unavailable, but this instance seems to fall more on the acting than the character. Diana’s brother Tiny doesn’t get a whole lot to do, which is a shame, because I really like Ray Santiago from what I’ve seen in Ash Vs. Evil Dead. I think he could have done good things with a meatier part.
Girlfight isn’t bad, and as a first effort for almost everyone involved (including writer/director Karyn Kusama), you might find it worth a watch. Rodriguez has gone on to a long career thanks to her chops as a tough-girl, and Kusama has done interesting work (most notably the transgressive horror film Jennifer’s Body). Girlfight shows both promise and blemish, but can’t quite get all it’s combinations flowing.
Most fighters try and tell a story in the ring, a narrative that seeks to get the judges in their corner. Girlfight failed to do so with me. That might just be because I was expecting a story for womankind rather than one about a singular woman. My decision might be biased, but it is final: Girlfight does not advance to the next level.