As a shameless medley of Flashdance, Rocky, Busby Berkeley routines and hip-hop videos, Stick It is a glorious, over-the-top girl-power fantasy. It’s also a thrilling insider look at the obsessive world of elite gymnastics, where the training is so grueling it makes the Navy Seal regimen look like a workout for wusses.
Haley Graham is an immensely talented gymnast who abruptly walked out of the national finals last year and refuses to compete again. Now she hangs out with her bike buddies and does gravity-defying wheelies. Played by Hilary Swank look-alike Missy Peregrym, (TV’s Life As We Know It), Haley is a depressed, defiant smart-mouth — the kind of teen you want to smack on sight. After a spectacular bit of derring-do causes $14,000 in damages to a new home, Haley is given a choice: juvie or gymnastics training.
So she’s off to the Vickerman Gymnastics Academy, run by gruff but well-meaning coach Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges, Sea Biscuit). While Haley tries to get back into competitive shape, she has to contend with the other gymnasts, especially the hilarious airhead Joanne (Vanessa Lengies, The Substance of Things Hoped For) and giggly charmer Wei Wei (newcomer Nikki Soo Hoo).
Everybody knows the hard-nosed coach with the sage-like one-liners is going to enforce tough love, which will make the rebellious brat turn herself into a champion. The fun with Stick It is watching the cliche unfold — or should we say, watching it leap, roll, somersault, hang, twirl, spin, crash and jump up again and again. Do remember, Stick It is a fantasy — some of the routines are so far-fetched they could have been accomplished only with special effects.
As in all teen comedies, the girls in Stick It hate one another in the beginning. But writer and first-time feature director Jessica Bendinger discards the genre’s cynicism in favor of an incredibly welcome dollop of good old-fashioned friendship. She rallies her characters into an unrivalled act of sisterhood that helps one of their own achieve the gold medal that nitpicking judges have denied her. It’s worth the price of admission just to see that one scene.
Why does this long-time feminist writer love a movie about lithe, leotard-clad hotties? Because Stick It is a glorious, positive take on teenage girls and the unfettered joy they can take in their own bodies. All the young gals in Stick It are fantastic looking, not because they imagine themselves as underage nymphos, but because, unlike so many women who grow up in our society, they are 100 percent in tune with their bodies.
I wish I could say that Stick It is a flawless female-power film. Alas, it’s not. Bendinger seems to have spent so much time twisting the cliches for girl characters that she doubled them up when it comes to the movie’s adult women. The movie shows only two mothers, and both of them, I’m sad to say, are unpleasant stage-mother stereotypes. Deduct one full point for that grievous oversight. (The best movie about mother/daughter relationships in competitive sports remains last year’s wonderful Ice Princess.) Imperfect as Stick It is, it’s still terrific, and wise parents just need a sense of humor to enjoy it as much as their kids will. Rated PG-13 for some crude remarks.
– reviewed by Marcianne Miller