Movies

Girlfight (2000, Michelle Rodriguez)

Girlfight

In Girlfight Brooklyn student Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodriguez) channels her anger away from her family life – with father Sandro (Paul Calderon) and brother Tiny (Ray Santiago) – into persuading boxing trainer Hector (Jaime Tirelli) to take her on. She steals money from her father to pay Hector, who agrees and is impressed by his new student’s rapid progress, which is maintained when bookworm Tiny foregoes his own lessons so she can continue to train in secret.

Diana meets promising young fighter Adrian (Santiago Douglas) and they begin an uneasy romance dominated by her ambition to succeed. She signs up to a boxing league and is given the chance to face male fighters. Meanwhile her home life is disintegrating, and she discovers who her next opponent is: Adrian…

Dismiss this as a female Rocky and you may as well give up on movies. Karyn Kusama’s debut is a tough and realistic drama sharing little with Stallone except a sporting theme. The Missouri film-maker struggled for two years to raise finance on this most unlikely of hits, eventually persuading a group of female producers to pay up. That intrusion into a male world – both in movies and boxing – drove the project, which boasts a sensitivity to character few male directors could match.

Yet this is no two-hankie weepie, as Kusama’s own script builds a brilliant determination centred around Rodriguez’s astonishing performance, her first credited role. The actress did everything she could to fail, roller-blading into the first auditions and being two hours late for the second, forcing the casting director to persuade Kusama to give here a third chance. “We noticed that Michelle’s mistakes were more interesting than other people’s successes,” she admits.

They paid Rodriguez back by giving her an intensive two-month training schedule, turning the 21-year-old Texan into a fighter credible enough to win major awards at Cannes and Sundance, and launch a career in muscle movies such as S.W.A.T and The Fast and the Furious.

USA / 2000

Director and Writer: Karyn Kusama

Cast: Michelle Rodriguez, Jaime Tirelli, Paul Calderon, Santiago Douglas, Ray Santiago