The nebulous term known as "buzz" is all-important for movies, especially smaller ones. Small independent movies usually languish in art house cinemas, virtually ignored by the general public. It's too bad too. There are plenty of independent and foreign movies that the public would actually like, they are just unaware that such movies exist. Can too much hype be a bad thing? Possibly. Girlfight garnered the Grand Jury Prize and the Best Directing Award at the Sundance film festival, which immediately put it on the radar screens of both critics and movie fans, generating huge amounts of hype and a media blitz. It is especially remarkable since this is feature film debut of star Michelle Rodriguez and the first film from director Karyn Kusama. The movie is good, but the amount of publicity surrounding it may bring with it unrealistic expectations. Girlfight is a good film. Despite what is on the ubiquitous ads, it may not be a great movie, but it is sure close.

Rodiguez gives a powerful performance as Diana. Part of it is because Diana almost always has a scowl on her face and looks ready to kill someone. The rest is the rage that comes out of her voice every time Rodiguez speaks. She is a very angry person, always getting into fights at school. She's intrigued when she enters a boxing gym, and begins taking lessons. Her teacher Hector (Jaime Tirelli, Preacher's Wife, A Simple Wish) is initially reluctant, but Diana proves to be a fierce contender. She uses boxing as a funnel for her anger. All her rage comes out when she spars and when she is in the ring. She can channel her aggression into something useful for once, and it makes her take control of her life.

Kusama talent here is creating ordinary yet appealing people. These are not fake Hollywood roles. Diana begins a slow relationship with Adrian (Santiago Douglas, Time's Up). In any other movie, they would have consummated their relationship within by the second half of the movie. Here, they are both wary of each other. Adrian and Diana do not necessarily trust each other's intentions, so they move extremely cautiously. They way they act around each other is very believable. Kusama also throws in the typical 'girls aren't supposed to box' storyline, but this never become too overbearing. These people do not have lofty aspirations, they just want to be able to live a simple life. Adrian's proudest moment is graduating from high school.

Girlfight is a boxing movie, so there are boxing scenes, but surprisingly (and thankfully) few. It is not about winning the match, it is about being able to box at all. The power of this movie doesn't come from the fact that Diana can hold her own in the ring against a man or a woman, it comes from Diana finally being able to make decisions. The boxing matches are simple, without the Rocky-like comebacks from behind. Kusama sparsely films the matches, using only a couple fancy shots. Girlfight can only be a small film. The cast is almost entirely Hispanic, but do not act stereotypically Hispanic. They are simply people. Prior films with predominantly Hispanic casts catered primarily towards Hispanics, garnering little notice elsewhere. Chances are slim that anyone would see a large star or director attached to a similar film. They would not be willing to take the chance. The fact that not many people know who Douglas is and no one ever saw Rodriguez makes watching the film refreshing and new.

Mongoose Rates It: Pretty Good.
1 hour, 53 minutes, Rated R for language.

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