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00656 - STICK IT

Movie-Hype00656 - STICK IT

I admit that I was already writing the review before the opening credits were over. I couldn’t believe I was watching a movie about gymnastics, and I was positive I knew everything the movie had to say.

My blurb was going to be “Skip It.” (See how clever I am?) I had also prewritten the line, “For those semi-pervs out there, hoping to look at hot 20 year olds in leotards pretending to be hot prepubescent girls in leotards, forget it. There’s more T&A on an episode of The View.” (I know what you’re thinking, “How does one man get to be so clever?” I tell ya: years of practice.)

However, as I am occasionally reminded (Thank you CLUELESS and TEN THINGS I HATE ABOUT YOU), one cannot judge a movie from looks and previews alone.

Don’t get me wrong. By no stretch of the imagination is STICK IT a great film. Even in the genre of “teenage girls will watch anything,” STICK IT is no BRING IT ON. (Although, to be fair, that’s like, totally the Matrix of Cheerleading films, so the bar is kinda high.)

But for all that, there’s kind of a dorky charm going on here.

STICK IT is the story of Haley, once the darling of USA Gymnastics, she inexplicably walked out on her final rotation at World’s, costing her team the gold. Since then she’s a pariah in that universe, and her personal life hasn’t gone too well either. Convicted of a crime that caused a lot of property damage, Haley is given the choice of Juvie, Texas Military Academy, or VGA, the Vickerman Gymnastics Association run by legendary coach Burt Vickerman (Jeff Daniels, who’s pretty much playing ‘the Dude’ from THE BIG LEBOWSKI, if that guy was a gymnastics coach with money problems), who was known for turning out prodigies, and now is more known for girls getting injured.

If you’ve ever seen any movie—EVER—you know that Haley chooses military school, but is forced to go the VGA, where everyone hates her and they’re all snotty, she doesn’t want to be there, and the coach is a crusty old guy who might have given up, but just might have some magic left.

I don’t fault STICK IT for any of that. We all know how clichéd sports movies work, and frankly, we’d probably be a little scared if they didn’t follow the formula.

Where STICK IT massively—and I mean massively; we’re talkin’ Oprah circa 1996—fails is in it’s attempt to copy the sassy dialogue of BRING IT ON. It’s the same writer, but it doesn’t work. The one liners fall completely flat, like when one rival first spots Haley and calls her “Pariah Carey.” (Oooh, snap!)

One more example should do the trick:

Joanne (to Poot): Okay, so I'm gonna need the details for your prom. Location, time, and we're gonna have to rent a limo and -

Frank: Dude! She's a bitch!

Poot (to Frank): Oh my god, I totally hate you right now!

Joanne: What?

Poot: Look -

Joanne: You think I'm a bitch?

Poot: No.... well, yes. But I don't have the problem with it that he does!

In fact, the dialogue is so bad, that it actually becomes funny on the “Unintentional Comedy Scale. If somehow I watched STICK IT again, I can see laughing at some of these doozies.

The next big failure is that STICK IT wants to talk about all the problems that exist in the Gymnastic world. You can’t properly do that in a film that barely lasts 90 minutes. Maybe twice that long and you could make an epic, but who wants to watch a Gymnastic Epic?

However, it is in reaching way too far that STICK IT got interesting. The first problem—crazy parents that push their kids too hard, and trust me, I’ll be bringing this up again—has been done much better in countless other films, and wisely STICK IT only makes a half-hearted attempt.

The next sport-wide problem—the utter corruptness of judging and competition—is tackled head on in ending that’s almost sweet. (Granted, it has NOTHING to do with the rest of the movie, but by this point, who cares? At least the writer had something to say.)

The last problem—the incredible injuries that premiere gymnastic athletes do to their bodies, stunted growth and short-circuited menstrual cycles, the broken bones and the lost youth—is also tackled, not completely, but hey; points for effort.

The major conflict that the STICK IT script has—and I have to admit, I have the same misgivings—is that the filmmaker wants to celebrate the accomplishments of these athletes, give praise to the insane amount of work to be done, and revel in the beauty and pageantry of high-level gymnastics, while at the same time raise serious issues that plague the sport.

Hyperion’s Rating Guide

Suspension of Disbelief (out of 10, with 10 being a cartoon.): That Haley, after several years away from competition, can make it back to elite form in just a few montages is pretty silly. The ending is a fantasy too. Everything else is spot-on: 3.

Genre Grade: I guess we’re calling this genre “Teen Girl Power.” Recent examples are of course BRING IT On and ICE PRINCESS. Gotta go with a B- by that standard.

Sex/Violence: There are lots of girls wearing tight leotards, but after watching what they go through, I’m pretty sure that not even Koz would get any jollies. Other than the whole “keep the leotard from doing wedgies” trick, there isn’t much sexiness going on here. Only about three bad words too. I’d say high school and up would be fine; middle school if you’re a tad more permissive. I would have let my sisters watch this at 13.

Kickassability: The trick at the end is pretty sweet, and whether or not the actors pull the stunts, somebody is doing these things, so a 15 (out of 100) just for that.

Pantheon Percentile (50 is average): Not a great film. But confounding all expectations, not a total disaster, either. 38.

I have to agree. On a personal level, I am almost hypnotically transfixed by the power and grace these girls (and I suppose, the guys) are able to bring. On the other hand, I very seriously think that any parent who pushes her child into elite-level gymnastics is guilty of child-abuse, and ought not to be a parent at all.

The girls are turned into freaks. They don’t grow properly. Their sexual maturity is sometimes completely halted. The injuries they sustain can be life-long.

I mean, in no way is the life of any sport prodigy normal, but gymnastics kids surpass anyone out there, including chess phenoms, and those kids are sub-terrene. I don’t care how much a little girl might want to, why would any parent not criminally negligent do this to his kid? STICK IT might not want to go there, but I couldn’t help seeing that message slammed into me again and again: I would take seriously suggestions to abolish this sport at the elite level.

But enough of the soap box. Take away the moral culpability, you have to hand it to these girls. They dedicate their lives to doing something that only a few in the world can do. Their athleticism is mind-boggling, and if not something I’d recommend, I still have to tip my cap.

And if nothing else, at least STICK IT lets us in on the secret of how they keep their leotards from giving them wedgies. That’s worth 90 minutes right there.


Jeff Travis Henderson said...

Hahaha I totally agree. I saw this movie with my brother this weekend (no comment) and we couldn't stop laughing at the wanna-be-sassy dialogue. Even better, I liked how at least 40 percent of the movie consisted of montages with a voice over talking about how tough the world of gymnastics is.

Anonymous said...

"Jeff Daniels, who’s pretty much playing ‘the Dude’ from THE BIG LEBOWSKI"

Jeff Bridges...