Directed by: Karyn Kusama
Written by:Karyn Kusama
Starring: Michelle Rodriguez, Santiago Douglas, Jaime Tirelli, Ray Santiago
Released: November 23, 2000
Grade: A-

The Dendy was packed when I caught up with an advance screening of the latest independent film, Girlfight.  I’d heard so little but one need only look at the awards it has claimed to understand the interest.  Not only did it capture the top prize at Sundance this year, it also claimed the Young Cinema Award at Cannes.

Diana (Rodriguez) is a tough girl in her final year of high school.  Home life has been tough since her mother passed away several years earlier and her father’s always shown favour for her younger brother Tiny (Santiago).  Tiny is given $10 a week by his father for boxing lessons and Diana resents the treatment Tiny receives.

At the gym one day, Diana finds the best way to express herself is in the boxing ring.  Hector (Tirelli), the boxing coach, is hesitant but sees talent in Diana and agrees to let her train if she’ll put in the effort.  All this is going on behind the back of her father and Diana will have a hard time keeping it from him.

Has the whole world gone topsy-turvy?  If any of this seems vaguely familiar, one need only recall Billy Elliot.  Instead of a boy learning ballet, we have a girl learning boxing and both are battling the odds and the wishes of their parent.  Girlfight is a tough, gritty look at boxing but like Billy Elliot is more a study of people and the things that drive them.

Michelle Rodriguez has come from obscurity for her first film role.  The role requires both acting ability and supreme physical strength and few would have met the criteria.  You clearly see Michelle bulking up as her training regime increases. It’s the great interaction between Michelle and other cast members that makes the film.  Karyn Kusama’s direction of the boxing scenes and Theodore Shapiro’s music score are highlights that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Once again illustrating the importance of storytelling, Girlfight has it all - action, laughter, romance and drama mixed with a dash of realism.  All’s fair in love and boxing.