A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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January 12, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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