Karyn Kusama

 Karyn Kusama
Girlfight has a couple of great things going for it: a take-no-prisoners starring performance from newcomer Michelle Rodriguez (she has a terrific, glowering presence), and the tightest, most accomplished editing you'll see this side of a Scorsese movie. It's a sincere, straightforward story of a gutsy teenage girl from Brooklyn named Diana (Rodriguez) who gets the inkling that she'd like to test herself in the boxing ring. Her father is busy encouraging her younger brother to put on the gloves and "be a man," but it's Diana who has the grit and talent in the ring. She begins surreptitiously taking lessons from a trainer at a local gym, and very quickly she proves herself, despite the protestations of the other coaches and fighters. This is a pretty good drama, but it's not exactly the knock-out that the pre-release hype has been claiming. Everything about it is well executed, but it's predictable and earnest in an old-school John Sayles sort of way (Sayles is actually one of the producers). There's a neat little relationship that develops between Diana and another young boxer named Adrian, and their scenes together are interesting because the two of them have no trouble showing their vulnerability outside of the ring. The only problems arise when they have to step into the ring together and face off against each other. Girlfight was the co-winner of the top prize at Sundance (along with the much more deserving, You Can Count on Me), but it has a strangely compromised feel to it. It resists being a rousing crowd-pleaser in favor of being more character-driven, but at the same time, there's a lack of depth and tension to the characterizations. Although the situations are rife with conflict, I never felt that anything was really at stake. Diana and Adrian make such a well-adjusted couple, their boxing match together never seemed like a threat to their relationship. Somehow, writer-director Karyn Kusama managed to wring the dramatic tension out of what should have been an emotionally harrowing finale.