Monday, May 15, 2006

Stick It

STICK IT (Jessica Bendinger, 2006)

With the recent success of musician biopics, it would be understandable if STICK IT were mistaken for the mistitled life story of Johnny Paycheck. (Somebody get on that, though. I like the idea of a movie called SHOVE IT. Come to think of it, though, that's the unspoken title of every audience-insulting film the studios release.) Here the it that is supposed to be stuck refers to gymnastics, not jobs to be placed where the sun doesn't shine.

In STICK IT rebellious Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) has a brush with the law after her stunt on a bike causes extensive damage to a home being remodeled. The former elite gymnast is given two options: go to a juvenile detention facility or a top-flight gymnastics school. A few years earlier Haley walked out of the world championships, a rash decision that blew the competition for her team and upset her since-divorced parents. She reluctantly accepts her sentence and goes to the academy., but to Haley, following the judge’s orders doesn’t mean she must heed coach Burt Vickerman’s (Jeff Bridges) instructions.

STICK IT writer-director Jessica Bendinger also penned BRING IT ON. The cheerleading comedy took the activity seriously but had a playful attitude. STICK IT overreaches in trying to affirm the gymnasts’ skill and the sport’s difficulty. Without a doubt, the routines require great strength and poise, but the film’s overstating things when Haley observes that the tricks they perform are tougher than what Navy SEALs must do.

The film as a whole is trying too hard, whether in the eye-popping red and white gym that looks like a 70s interior design nightmare or the repetition of Busby Berkeley-like training sessions. It’s especially true when it comes to proving Haley’s street cred. She wears Bad Brains and Black Flag t-shirts and has a Deerhoof sticker in her bedroom. The costumer and production designer knew what they were doing even if it’s a stretch that the character is really into these bands.

True to its title, the film sticks it to the gymnastics establishment which, like figure skating, often gives the impression of having predetermined winners who gain favor because of reputation and body type. As Hayley, Peregrym has a more athletic build than the sprites that dominate the sport. She helps illustrate the film’s point that her size shouldn’t automatically hold her back in the judges’ minds. STICK IT also attacks a scoring system in need of transparency.

Bendinger makes valid arguments about silly rules and the undue sway of judges, but for a film whose characters value authenticity and natural talent, it's ironic that STICK IT'S rebellious nature is more of a fashion statement than state of mind and its showstopping physical feats, like a headspin on a balance beam, are computer-aided. The actresses didn't need to be exceptional gymnasts, but the film sells the athletes short by not letting the simple power and beauty of their characters' skills be enough.

Grade: C+

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