A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 318 – Stick It

Stick It – January 12th, 2010

I might have mentioned some time back that I’m not big on athletics. I always hated phys ed in school and I’ve never enjoyed watching team sports on television (or live, for that matter). My one major exception is the Olympics. I still don’t watch the team stuff, like the hockey games or baseball or whatever. No. My events are figure skating in the winter, along with some of the jumping if I pass by it, and gymnastics and diving in the summer. I dabbled in both gymnastics and figure skating when I was younger, but was never really good enough or interested enough in either to warrant any sort of intensive training. But I still enjoy watching. So why hadn’t I seen this movie before today?

I’m utterly serious here. This is not a brilliant movie destined for awards and greatness. It’s a silly teen movie about gymnastics with lots of cute turns of phrase and teenage rebellion winning the day. But it’s along the same lines as other things I’ve liked and it’s about gymnastics, which I enjoy watching. So what was up with me that I missed this until now? It’s even got Jeff Bridges in it. Jeff Bridges! Who seems to be everywhere right now, but whatever. I didn’t even know he was in this movie until the opening credits. Astounding.

This was a purchase Andy made back when we started the project. Along with Center Stage and its ilk, it was one of those things we put in the collection in order to sort of even it out. After all, most of the movies sitting in stacks around our apartment are action movies or serious dramas. Things Andy bought because they’re his taste. Not working in a video store and therefore not being surrounded by movies all day, I wasn’t picking up DVD after DVD of things I enjoy or was curious about, so the collection was decidedly weighed in his favor. So we decided to pick some things I was likely to enjoy more or already enjoyed. And well, Bring It On ended up being something Andy really liked, so that’s cool. I think he was pleasantly surprised by this one too, which is nice, because so was I.

Oh, it’s just as silly as I thought it would be, but it was fun too. Main character Haley Graham gets in trouble for vandalising an unfinished house and through some bizarre court settlement ends up getting sent to train at a gym for elite gymnasts, which she used to be until she dropped out in the middle of a major competition. How does that even work? Are deals like that made in real life? Juvie or hardcore gymnastics? Seriously? Whatever. Handwave that and you’re on your way to lots of snarking between Haley and her new gym-mates as Haley pretends she doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks, butts heads with her new coach (Bridges as Burt Vickerman), and tries to get back in shape after years out of the sport. Of course she ends up training hard, wins herself a spot at a smaller meet, then wins herself a spot at a bigger meet and along the way learns an important lesson about herself and team spirit.

See, this was written and directed by the same woman who wrote Bring It On, so there’s a similar feel to it all, but it’s not an exact replica. For one, it doesn’t have the same sort of competitive vibe going. By the end of the movie it’s not so much one team against another as it’s the athletes against the judges. After a rather weak revelation about why Haley walked out of the big competition years back (seriously, the movie spends like, five minutes on something that’s a major plot point otherwise) she makes friends with her teammates and really seems to want them to do well. But a loose bra strap costs one of them major points despite a flawless performance and thus the rebellion. Haley somehow gets every gymnast at the meet to default, sometimes showing their own bra straps in protest, except for one chosen athlete the whole group thinks should win. And so it goes for the climax. And it’s all very feel-good and thoroughly unbelievable because while yes, the judging and point values and so on and so forth are indeed the subject of much debate and irritation amongst athletes, getting every single gymnast at a major meet, the outcome of which has a possibility of determining spots on a world championship team, which will determine spots on the Olympic team, to agree to default? Yeah, never going to happen. In Bring It On the right team wins after a full on competition. Here, it’s not about winning, but come on. This is a sport in which the aforementioned Kerri Strug did a vault on a sprained ankle to make sure her team took gold. She went to her knees as soon as she was sure she’d locked the landing. She couldn’t stand on the podium and had to be carried by Bela Karolyi. Maybe one or two gymnasts at this level would throw a meet this big to make a point, but not everyone. It made me roll my eyes a little.

All that being said, it was still a lot of fun. I mean, it doesn’t have to be believable. It wasn’t believable from the outset with the whole thing where Haley’s father (look close and you might recognize him as Laszlo Hollyfeld from Real Genius) “finances” her “punishment” at the gym and the court is totally cool with that. And there is something fun about seeing these gymnasts band together to be all “bra straps? oh come on!” And there’s some fun gymnastics to watch too. The cast is peppered with real high level gymnasts, both as body doubles for the main cast and as the rest of the competing athletes at the meet and at Haley’s gym. And they’re good. They’re fantastic to watch. There’s a great bit during an in-house competition at Haley’s gym where each event is shown with all the girls overlapping as they perform, each one wearing a different colored leotard. It’s a neat effect and the floor routine in particular, done with a kaleidescope sort of view is pretty cool. I could have done without the narrative voice-over, even if it does have some cute lines, but Missy Peregrym did a good job as Haley overall. Jeff Bridges was a lot of fun to watch and like I said, the gymnastics were good. I’m glad Andy bought this, even if I’d never seen it, and even with it’s ridiculousness and plot holes (Haley walks out of another meet and yet still goes to nationals or whatever it was that meet was to qualify for?) I still liked it.

January 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment

Stick It

January 12, 2011

Stick It

When we started our movie project Amanda was concerned that there were so many movies in our collection that I had purchased for myself without her input. She felt we needed more movies that were hers only and not so much mine. To this end she made some suggestions. I should buy some cheesy movies for girls – to which end we bought Bring it On and Drumline and Center Stage and Save the Last Dance. Then, in the way I have I went a little bit overboard. Once I started buying cheesy teen movies I couldn’t stop. Which is why we own Stomp the Yard. And why we own this movie.

We hadn’t seen this before watching it (or before I bought it for that matter) because I’m crazy that way. All I knew for sure was that much was made at the time this movie came out of the notion that the film makers chose to cast gymnasts instead of actors in some supporting roles. So I suppose I was expecting a lot of good tumbling. What I was NOT expecting was to see Jeff Bridges in the opening credits, lending the movie an air of legitimacy.

Of course this movie is still pure escapist fantasy, it just happens to have an Oscar winning actor in it. Our heroine is Haley Graham, a young woman who was born to be a gymnast but doesn’t want to be one. At the start of the film she’s horsing around with a couple friends of hers, doing stunts on her dirtbike, and does a bunch of property damage to a house under construction. The judge presiding over her case gives her a choice: go to military academy or go to a prestigious but insular school for professional gymnasts. She would rather go to military academy, but ends up in gymnast high anyhow. There she is under the tutelage of the self obsessed washed up coach Burt Vickerman.

The first two thirds or so of the movie revolve around Haley and Vickerman. He is played by the inimitable Bridges, who gives him the prefect blend of snobbish know-it-allness with a tender heart. Missy Peregrym portrays the rebellious but unbelievably talented Haley. Vic has to figure out why it was that this promising young gymnast walked out on her team during the world championships, and she has to figure out if she trusts him enough to let him train her. Sure there’s nothing particularly new here, but it’s well played, humorously written, and directed with a sort of fun hyper kinetic flare.

As I mentioned before many of the smaller roles in the movie were given to actual gymnasts. The movie is filled with constant gymnastic stunts, and it must have made it much easier to edit it together with fewer stunt doubles. It looks like the three lead gymnasts (heroine Haley, bitchy Joanne and comic relief Wei Wei Yong) all had stunt doubles for some of their more complex bits, but most of the other girls did all their own stunts and routines. Writer/director Jessica Bendinger treats gymnastics as an X-Treme sport, just saddled with a stodgy judging system that stifles creativity and individuality. She uses a lot of flashy techniques to keep the action from boring the audience. The performances are filled with quick edits, with stunts (and falls) seen from multiple angles, so that the gymnastic routines are compressed into quick “best of” bursts of unbelievable looking stunts. (At one point I found myself wondering if they were using a wire rig for some of the stunts, but I suspect not. These are people who have trained their entire lives to actually do for real some of the things we’ve seen simulated with wires and special effects in the movies we’ve watched over the last three days.) There’s one particular training montage that shows multiple routines superimposed over each other in a kaleidoscopic whorl of activity. It’s really quite mesmerising.

The last third or so of the movie is given over to the national championships. In the usual way for a sports themed movie. The twist here is that Haley’s rebellious character arc leads to a somewhat different and more fantastic ending than I had been expecting. I would say that it takes its cues from Strictly Ballroom more than from any sports movie I can think of. I suppose that since this is a movie about wish-fulfillment for young gymnasts it’s kind of nice that the fairy tale ending isn’t just about winning. (In that regard I found it similar to the ending to Bring it On.)

My one complaint about the movie would be that Bendinger is at times fairly blunt with her story telling. There are a number of segments in the movie where the plot, as well as the thought process of our heroine Haley, are presented as voice over monologue. It feels clumsy and out of place, and I think I would have rather seen the movie without those bits. I have to wonder if they were forced upon the movie by a studio executive who wanted things to be clearer for the audience or if they were part of the original script.

Still, this is a fun, pretty movie. It manages to drive home the serious sacrifices that a young gymnast must make in the name of her craft (both in terms of the physical toll on her body and the fact that she can have no life but gymnastics) and at the same time be a light-hearted fantasy film. It has montages of brutal painful training while at the same time having a scene where the gymnasts perform stunts in a local mall while wearing prom dresses. Fantasy, but also homage to the art of gymnastics. I liked that blend.

January 12, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment