“Girlfight” centers on Diana Guzman, a troubled high school senior. She has been warned by her Principal Ms. Martinez (Iris Little Thomas), that if she gets into one more physical altercation, she will be expelled from school. Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious) makes her film debut with her outstanding portrayal of Diana. She doesn’t have a significant other, nor does she have many friends. Those few friends Diana does have, such as Marisol (Elisa Bocanegra) are increasingly taken aback by the volatile manner in which she acts. When Diana arrives home, her life there, where she lives with her apathetic father Sandro (Paul Calderon) and her nice, but geeky brother Tiny (Ray Santiago) is not much better. Diana’s mother, it is mentioned during the film, has passed away.
Sandro asks Diana to drop something off for him at the Brooklyn Athletic Club. The club is where her brother Tiny, much to his regret, takes boxing lessons. While at the athletic club, Diana gets caught up in what’s going on, and realizes that she also wants to take boxing lessons. She approaches Tiny’s trainer Hector (Jamie Tirelli) to train her. He will, provided she gives him ten dollars for every session. Diana doesn’t have any money, but she has an overwhelming desire to train and channel her aggressive behavior. Taking the money from her father’s sock draw, Diana shows up at the athletic club a short time later, ready to work. She finds the training, at first, to be difficult, but over time the training helps her to become a more disciplined individual, which in turn, keeps her out of trouble at school. (As an aside: “Girlfight” was the first ever film Michele Rodriguez auditioned for, beating out approximately three hundred other actresses for the part. Once she was offered the role, she had intensive training for two months before filming began).
“Girlfight” is a well executed film that tells a compelling story. While it mirrors the film “Rocky” in certain respects, overall it stands on its own merits. Where “Rocky” centered on the character of Rocky Balboa portrayed by Golden Globe winner Sylvester Stallone (Creed) wanting more than anything in life to be able to go the distance with the world heavy weight champion, Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers), “Girlfight” does not have that sort of quest at stake. Diana is most definitely an underdog, but she is merely seeking a way to channel her anger and make her life more bearable by becoming good at, and, most importantly having something worthwhile to invest her time in. There is no big title fight that Diana will be competing for on a national scene, that the film leads up to. “Girlfight” is instead about Dian’s self discovery as to the kind of person she wants to, and, proves to herself that she can be in this world.
One aspect of the film that I thought was well handled was when Diana begins a relationship with an aspiring boxer named Adrian (Douglas Santiago). Instead of delving into a deep romance where Diana puts her own dreams on hold to support her lover, she keeps moving forward. I am glad that the filmmakers decided not to take the well traveled cinematic road of the aforementioned.
“Girlfight” premiered on January 22, 2000 at the Sundance Film Festival. The film is the directorial debut of Karyn Kusama (Billions), who in addition to directing, wrote the screenplay for the movie. Comprised of the genres of drama and sport, the film has a runtime of 110 minutes. In 2000, The National Board of Review, USA named Rodriguez the winner of the Breakthrough Performance of the year – Female for her role in the film.
Karyn Kusama delivers in her directorial debut by making choices that were counter to the clichéd approach she could have taken with the material. The film deals with the themes of a female searching for her way in a traditional male sport, as well as discovering more about herself in the process. The movie held my interest from the outset, and for those seeking an absorbing character study, you should find “Girlfight” worth watching.