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This is possibly the Raging Bull or Rocky of girl boxing movies. Not that there is a lot of movies about girl boxers, mind you, but that's the best comparison I can make. Girlfight is both an uplifting tale of a young woman who fights the odds and becomes a boxer, and a portrait of a troubled woman who learns to channel her aggression.

Girlfight is one of the better films I've seen in a while, and proves that there are still many interesting films being made in America today. I was a little worried that perhaps Girlfight would be one of those "hip", ultra-low-budget flicks with a pandering attitude to a "cool" post-adolescent audience and with little sense of genuine storytelling, but it is actually a good example of the many films that I seem to enjoy; the ones that deal with the real world in quiet ways. Other examples of this would be Tumbleweeds, A Map of The World, Ulee's Gold, and many others.
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Diana lives in the inner city (I'm not quite sure which city, I'm afraid), and is just finishing high school. This girl is most definitely not the model student: she is the sort who, unfortunately (I guess), solves problems through violence, and has already been in trouble four times during the semester for fighting in school. The very first scene depicts the fifth violent infraction, in which she attacks a woman who, apparently, has slept with a guy whom one of Diana's friends likes. Diana doesn't help matters by bringing to the debate some rather provocative statements; without them, the confrontation would probably have been less verbal, and certainly less violent. Her temper and impulsiveness exists outside of the school as well, as a number of times she is seen getting into verbal arguments with members of her family, and whenever she happens to pick up her brother from the gym, she ends up swatting the kid whom she feels went out of bounds with her brother during a sparring exercise in the ring.

It is this impromptu trip to the gym where the story develops, as Diana becomes fascinated by the boxing which is the main activity in this particular gym, and she demands to be trained. Difficulty arises right from the start, as the trainer takes his sweet time in allowing himself to be convinced, hindered by other opposition in the gym. The biggest hurdle seems to be at home. Her father already pays for the son's gym time, and it is pretty clear from the outset that he is the kind of guy who would not approve of a girl, much less his own daughter, learning how to box. Therefore, Diana does what she feels she must, which is to steal money from her dad to use for her training.

Much of the rest of the movie is Diana's physical and emotional development under the tutulage of the boxing trainer, who turns out to be a very good and tough yet supportive coach, and certainly a likeable character. You will certainly like and admire this guy about as much as you will root for Diana to better herself, which she certainly does. She goes from being a tough girl impatient with discipline and hard work to someone who very well could become a good boxer, and there is nothing unconvincing about this depiction. Of course, there is also some romance, and that is between her and Adrian, another boxer who is being groomed to someday go professional very soon. Their boxing careers and their romantic relationship are interwined, resulting in many very touchy situations, including scenes where they spar together, and even a scene in which they are actually in a match. I will say no more about this, except to say that these moments are probably the most compelling in the picture.

Sexism in the world of boxing is always simmering beneath the surface of this tale. This movie proves that there is still a far way to go before women can be left alone to do what they want to do, instead of having to follow antiquatted gender roles. Diana's father expects boys to be men and girls to be women: he expects the son to train in boxing so he can "defend himself" (even though the boy would rather go to an arts college), and expects the daughter do wear a skirt and do other "girly" things (even though it is pretty clear that there is nothing particularily "ladylike" about her). And, in the gym, opposition, mainly in the form of Adrian's trainer, exists due to the fact that women would dare fight in the ring. And of course, there is the usual crap about how men would feel shamed if they were beaten by a girl!!!

David Macdonald

David Macdonald's Movie Reviews

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