Despite winning a best directing award at last year's Sundance Film Festival and the Prix de la Jeunesse at Cannes, Karyn Kusama's critically acclaimed debut feature has taken an inexplicably long time to receive a UK release. Don't let that deter you from seeing this raw and gritty tale of triumph against the odds that offers a female spin on the "Rocky" formula.
Set against the dispiriting backdrop of Brooklyn's housing projects, "Girlfight" tells the tale of Diana Guzman (newcomer Michelle Rodriguez), a sullen Latino misfit who can't seem to keep out of trouble. When she's not knocking seven bells out of her schoolmates she's at loggerheads with her father (Paul Calderon), though he's usually too drunk to notice.
Diana clearly has a lot of pent-up aggression stemming from her mum's death and her dad's neglect, and she finally finds an outlet for that frustration by taking the boxing lessons her father has arranged to toughen up her fey younger brother Tiny (Ray Santiago). Diana fits into this masculine world with ease, but she's no Raging Bull-dyke, soon beginning a testy romance with fellow slugger Adrian (Santiago Douglas).
The fact that Diana's boyfriend shares the same name as Sylvester Stallone's wife in the "Rocky" series is just one of the ways Kusama gender-bends the testosterone-laden clichés of the boxing movie. But it's Rodriguez who gives the drama its punch with a magnetic turn so eye-catching she has subsequently been cast in the film version of hit computer game Resident Evil.
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