Tuesday, September 8, 2009

A Tale of Two Movies....

Stick it is a weird movie.  I watched it again last night with some friends who know nothing about the sport of gymnastics.   They loved Bring It On and wanted some more of that kind of funny, infectious teen-brand zing. 

Seeing it through their eyes really adjusted my focus on the film.  I realised, Stick It is confusing.
It is really funny in parts, and quite enjoyable but I think it has a huge plot problem, particularly for the layman viewer.  

The main problem I see with it is that it can ostensibly seen as two very different films merged into an ineffectual whole. 

One of the films is about a largely annoying, but apparently very talented (why else would any coach put up with her seemingly endless serves of smart#$@ crap?) gymnast called Haley who, due to personal ISSUES, abandoned the sport very suddenly and dramatically, much to the chagrin of her World Championship team mates and is now being forced to return to it.  

This film is a bit of a Heroes Journey "comeback" story where the quest is for her to get over her all-consuming case of the whatevers, lose the 'tude, sort out her family mess, make nice with the people she p.o'ed and do some gymnastics on her own terms.

(I swear, we started groaning loudly every time Haley did those "rock" fingers.  So, so incredibly lame)

The other film in Stick It is about a bunch of gymnasts who, due to an incident at a meet where a girl is penalised for her bra strap showing, become frustrated by the way totally arbitrary rules of the sport affect the way their performances are judged,  and the way these rules restrict their ability to express their individuality in a sport that requires both perfection and, to a great degree, uniformity.  So, they rebel.

This second film is more of a "cause" film, where the girls band together and rebel against the power-that-be, thus (hopefully) changing the way it is judged.  That film starts roughly in the last third of the other film.

That is a lot of story to squeeze into what is an average length teen comedy! 

Now, not only do I find the abrupt shift in focus from one story to another really jarring, where the first story kind of fades out in the second half when it is resolved by Haley's revelation about her mother and coach and her starting to make nice with her new coach.  The second story is barely introduced in the first half and then suddenly springs to life at the end (and don't forget to throw in a romantic plotline, and several mother/daughter plots and the ubiquitous montage at the mall scene to make the plot ever-thicker).  

I found the sudden change in tack confusing, but believe me, my friends found it even more confusing.  Sure they were happy to sit back and laugh at lines like "Pariah Carey"  and the demand to  "Call me" be greeted with the assurance, "Stalk you". They happily followed Haley's insult-peppered relationship with  Vick all the way through her mutinous journey back to being a gymnast.  But when it came to the last third or so, they had no real idea what was going on.

And I don't blame them.  Haley's ongoing commentary about the problems with judging and judges and demands for homogeneity in gymnastics through the first half do not do a good enough or obvious enough job in building the film to it's rebellious climax. Frankly, it just sounds like more whining.  There is too much other stuff going on to distract us from her soliloquies. 

 If Stick It really wanted to act as an indictment on the things its writers disliked about the sport of  gymnastics, they needed to spend the entire film properly building to this moment of mutiny so that viewers who are NOT involved in the sport can understand why the gymnasts are suddenly running around, acting like goons and huffily yanking on their bra straps.

It's not that I don't like Stick It.  I find parts of it hilarious.  It makes me happy enough that they made a film about gymnastics.  And really,  I could listen to Poot and Joanne's hilarious lines all day.  I loved Mena and Wei-wei too.  They were so cute and funny and the 'telephone' conversations made me laugh my @#$ off.  It was also nice seeing Nastia again, being so little and doing the most beautiful Pak I have ever seen her do.  

I loved seeing Iseabelle Severino's (body double for the maybe, three of you in the world that didn't know she was Missy Peregrym's body double) tricks too, like her piked full-in and triple again.  

I do believe, however, that if it hadn't had been one of Severino's most flashy tricks on beam, they wouldn't have had a tomboy, power gymnast like Haley doing the Rufolva.  It is too pretty for her tough-girl brand of gymnastics.  And as it seems she was choreographing her routines herself (As IF- but then there are so many AS-IF moments in this film for people who know gym, it's hardly worth listing them) I don't think Haley would have chosen a Rufolva.  She would probably put together a beam routine more along Peszek's lines than Sevs.

 It seems to me, Stick It needed to decide which film it was going to be.  Was it a girls journey through her comeback into the gymnastics world, or the story of the problems of the sexism inherent in gymnastics as seen by by some frustrated gymnasts?  Both could have been grand.  But in my opinion, both failed, because the first story was cut short and not given the time it needed, therefore making it even more shallow and vapid then it intended to be, and the second because it needed more time to make any kind of sense to the person who doesn't know the rules of the sport beyond the measly explanations the film has time to offer between other plot points.

Still, I will always giggle when I hear "Who died and made you Nadia?"!

1 comment:

  1. I've seen others reviews of Stick It that say pretty much this same thing before, but I don't necessarily agree. It's certainly not a masterfully crafted movie or anything, far from it, but as mentioned, Haley's narration points out what she perceives to be the problems in gymnastics judging and standards consistently throughout the entire movie. I think it did a more than adequate job with regard to that (whether one finds her whiny is obviously subjective; I've never felt that Missy Peregrym actually has enough charisma to carry the roles in which she is typically cast).

    To provide another anecdotal sample like your example of your friends, no one I've ever watched it with (none of them at all knowledgeable about gymnastics) had any trouble following anything or understanding the significance of what they were doing at the end. Plus, Haley's internal conflict arc doesn't actually end with the revelation about why she walked out of worlds. The denouement of that character note isn't until she's about to do her floor routine at the very end of the movie and she finally has someone supporting her (her coach) who actually cares about HER and not just what she can do for them.

    On top of that, I think that Haley's journey is not necessarily a Heroe's Comeback exclusively so much as it is a journey of redemption. The other major thread throughout the movie is the fact that Haley, herself, despite the injustices committed against her by the various adults in her life, is also selfish and self-centered. She's all about her and what she wants and her fixation on her own troubles that she doesn't think about or respect others and casually screws over her teammates. First her worlds' teammates and then later she encourages Mina and Wei-Wei to throw tricks they aren't ready to, for which she's chastised. Thematically, part of the movie is about her winning back the respect of her peers by showing more concern for others than for herself. When she begins the rebellion, it's for Mina's sake and the entire point is about them not fighting against each other. Because of the nature of her fall from grace, her final triumph/comeback actually becomes significantly less affecting if she never reconciles with her fellow gymnasts or exhibits any solidarity with them.

    Because of the degree of overlap between Haley's redemption/comeback arc and the overall issues of the gymnastic world and the subsequent banding together and rebellion, I find it difficult to say that the movie is two separate, distinct stories. I think there are two story beats that are pretty consistently intertwined throughout.

    Ultimately, there are problems with the execution of most of the writing in the movie, but I don't think that the foundation is inherently flawed.