In case you haven't been to the movies lately, things aren't too great for teen girls. Either they're whiny pop stars, victims of serial killers or just plain stupid. Even a warm, slightly revolutionary (girls want sex just as much as guys!) tale of female camaraderie like Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants can't get much traction in today's market.
Thus, it's a relief to see something like Stick It, a sports comedy that takes the girliest of competitive teen athletics, gymnastics, and injects it with an estrogen-fueled, anti-authoritarian righteousness. It may be funded by Disney, but writer-director Jessica Bendinger's film is closer to a spirited John Hughes movie like The Breakfast Club than girlie teen sap like The Princess Diaries. It won't change anyone's life, but it has an energy and vitality that most chick flicks sorely lack.
The differences are clear from the credit sequence, a bright, graffiti-animated scroll that looks like a cool hip-hop video. After some strenuously "extreme" camerawork, we're introduced to 17-year-old delinquent Haley (Missy Peregrym), a BMX bandit whose latest high-flying stunt lands her in juvie court for the umpteenth time. A one-time Olympic gymnastics hopeful, Haley is sent to the place she dreads most: Burt Vickerman's (Jeff Bridges) training camp for girl athletes. Having once walked out during a championship meet, Haley is loathed by her prissy classmates: "In the world of gymnastics, hating me was a sport," she says.
Stick It's plot pushes all the usual buttons: Haley learns to overcome her daddy issues, work with a mentor and succeed in front of a crowd of her peers. But it deviates from the Karate Kid formula where it counts. Bendinger subtly pokes fun at gymnasts' obsession with their bodies. When one girl spots a bunch of co-eds partying in a parking lot and wonders why she isn't one of them, Haley quips, "They've got boobs."
Some of the dialogue is too cutesy, and like many teen flicks, the editing sacrifices clarity for an MTV-style pace. But subtly, Bendinger promotes a message of girl-power for all, no matter what sort of personality the girl might happen to have. When Haley's guy friend Poot (John Patrick Amedori) falls for the bitchy Joanne, his buddy says, "Dude, you're whipped." His reply: "And why is that a bad thing?"
Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.