Screenwriter and music-video veteran Jessica Bendinger's feature-directing debut is a variation on the triumph-of-the-underdog formula she worked so effectively in BRING IT ON (2000), a frothy girl-power manifesto so briskly paced, sharply written and infectiously entertaining that its deficiencies seem as insignificant as a lightly chipped fingernail. Where...read more
Screenwriter and music-video veteran Jessica Bendinger's feature-directing debut is a variation on the triumph-of-the-underdog formula she worked so effectively in BRING IT ON (2000), a frothy girl-power manifesto so briskly paced, sharply written and infectiously entertaining that its deficiencies seem as insignificant as a lightly chipped fingernail. Where BRING IT ON turned a gimlet eye on the high-energy hijinks of competitive cheerleading, STICK IT focuses on the cutthroat world of high-school gymnastics. Once upon a time, suburban punk Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) was the best little girl in the world, a multiple-award-winning gymnast bursting with raw talent and smarts. But she abruptly quit in the middle of an important meet, leaving her sobbing teammates in the lurch and permanently blackening her name. Now she's a BMX-biking, authority-flouting demon seed whose daredevil antics regularly get her in trouble with the law. When she's arrested again for property damage, her father (Jon Gries), who got custody after he and his wife (Gia Carides) divorced, gives up and leaves Haley's fate in the hands of tough-but-fair Judge Westreich (veteran comic actress Polly Holliday). The judge offers Haley a choice: She can go to jail or she can do her time at VGA, a school run by onetime gymnast Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges). Haley arrives at VGA radiating flat-out contempt for Vickerman and Stepford gymnasts Mina (Maddy Curley), Wei Wei (Nikki Soohoo) and, especially, snooty Joanna (Vanessa Lengies). Vickerman's brand of tough love convinces Haley to start training again, but only on her own terms. To be sure, the path to the big competition is clear. But Bendinger keeps the film moving, the fresh young cast has a field day with her snippy, too-cool-for-school dialogue, and anyone who thought gymnastics was a sissy sport should be thoroughly disabused of that notion by the third or fourth practice-session montage. Bendinger pulls out all the stops visually, using bold set design, frantic editing, extreme angles and computer image multiplying that turns what begins as a Busby Berkeley exercise in synchronized movement into a kaleidoscopic infinity of handsprings and back flips. If the message, which seems to be that you can be a rebel, a team player and an all-around good kid at the same time, is less than unconvincing, the film's sheer high spirits are as clear and bracing as an icy wave on a hot day.
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