Some of you kids out there in City Paper Land might be a wee bit young to recall the phenomenon of the ABC Afterschool Special, so we'll puke up a little background info for ya in order to serve our premise: The Afterschool Specials were these TV dramas that aired in the afternoons on weekdays and invariably featured some typical school-aged youngsters involved in some sort of typical school-aged dilemma, which would be resolved in a mature and responsible way, with the heartwarming and educational bonus of valuable lessons learned about good stuff like ethics, maturity, and family. Well, the Cannes Film Festival Young Cinema Award-winning, Deauville Film Festival Grand Special Prize-winning, Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize and Director's Award-winning Girlfight is just like a goddamn ABC Afterschool Special, with the addition of salty language, sporadic violence, and better make-out scenes. (But, naw, it's not like it's Coyote Ugly avec boxing gloves or anything, so you knuckleheads can sit this one out, OK?)
Here's some plot for ya: Young projects-dweller Diana (Michelle Rodriguez) is a kinda plain (y'know, for a movie) tough girl, wandering aimlessly through her senior year in high school with few friends, no boyfriend, and a king-sized chip on her shoulder. She pops major attitude to her teachers, gets into trouble for repeatedly attempting to dispense a little street justice in school, and is ignored by her widower dad, Sandro (Paul Calderon), who is only concerned about the well-being of his son, Tiny (Ray Santiago). (Well, for starters, don't go around calling your kid "Tiny," right? Not a real boost for the old self-esteem.) Anyway, Diana finds herself in a boxing gym inhabited by intense, sweaty guys, and decides she wants to get all intense and sweaty herself and study the sweet science. She's a girl who wants to kick ass, and we all wanna see it happen.
This flick admirably avoids a lot of predictable "girls can't do that" stuff, and is refreshingly subtle in handling the particular forms of dysfunction affecting our fledgling pugilist's love life and family, but it's got this narcotizing, deliberate, award-winning, independent film-flavored pacing that makes it a little hard to endure.
Oh yeah, the valuable lesson: When talking things out with friends and family don't work, go beat the shit out of whoever's giving you static. (Joe MacLeod)