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Monday, May 01, 2006

Stick It

Karen Chapman is a saint. Can you imagine spending an entire day sitting in the small glassed-in ticket booth at the Essex Cinemas trying to be accommodating to strangers and every time she asks a teenager “May I help you?” she is met with the response “Stick It !” Fortunately Karen is made of stronger stuff than me because even if it is the unfortunate title of a new movie now playing at the Essex Cinemas I’d be in tears after the tenth or eleventh time it happened. What can I say? I’m a sensitive soul and I generally think that teenagers exist only to be mean and obnoxious, which is sort of what the premise of Stick It is all about.

Jessica Bendinger, the author of the cheerleading movie Bring It On, another teen girls catfight extravaganza, makes her directorial debut with Stick It, in which she hangs up the pom poms and focuses instead on the drama of young women’s gymnastics. The story is simple enough.

Missy Peregrym (in her first credited film role) plays Haley Graham, a bitter, ex-gymnast, whose life has gone downhill since she walked away from her sport two years earlier. After a remarkable opening featuring some great skateboarding and dirt bike stunts, she manages to end the choreographed stunts with a flying crash through an enormous window of a mansion under construction, which leads her straight into jail, and before you can say “Kiss my grits”, she is staring up at the bench of Judge Westreich (Polly Holliday, best known as "Flo" from tv’s classic Alice). The Judge recognizes the young woman and gives her a choice of punishment. She can either go into a hard-ass military school or go to the VGA. Haley jumps at the chance to go military, which answers the Judge’s question of what would be a perfect punishment. She sends her off instead for a semester at VGA.

All this talk of the VGA is enough to have the audience practically offering their own participatory
suggestions of what VGA stands for. Vermont Girls Acreage? Very Ghoulish Abbey? Vixens Getting Adjusted? It takes another five minutes and a bus ride before we finally see that VGA is the Vickerman Gymnastics Academy, a training facility that Haley knows only too well. It is the place where she had trained before and where she had been sponsored and coached all the way to the national championships. It is also the place where she disappointed every person on her team and associated with the VGA when she walked out at the last moment without explanation, costing them the championship medals.

Haley made a lot of enemies that day, and her return is guaranteed to be met with a less than enthusiastic reception. Joanne Charis (Vanessa Lengies, The Substance of Things Hoped For; The Perfect Man) is the Diva of the floor mats now, and she is not interested in sharing the spotlight with the former gymnastics star. Even Vickerman himself (Jeff Bridges, Seabiscuit; K-Pax) isn’t thrilled to have her back again, seeing her as a failure and a potential disruption to the well-run training program he has going at the moment, but since her father is paying top-dollar for her stay there Vickerman is willing to overlook his personal feelings since money is involved.

Sure enough, Haley rocks the boat instantly and we are treated to an ample dose of snide remarks and adolescent threats as the girls choose sides amid an array of gymnastic montages and music videos that fill way too much of the middle of the movie. Basically the entire middle hour of the film is a lot of back-flipping, swinging, hand-standing, and falling down interrupted only to punctuate the fact that Haley is a pain in the butt and yet they all are going to have to rely on her to win the championship this year. Essentially she is their best hope.

Naturally, of course, by the final act, the estrogen levels are at their highest and the championships are again at stake. Will Haley walk again? Will Joanne sabotage the championship to get revenge on Haley for stealing the spotlight away from her? Will Jeff Bridges finally spit the gum out of his mouth that he has been chewing in every scene?

So many questions, and, yes, they are answered by the end credits in a satisfying and unexpected
climax that elevates the otherwise ho-hum plot and explains why Haley has been such a sourpuss for the past two years.

Stick It may not be for everybody, but it is a well-crafted enough film for its’ target audience. When I saw it the audience was mostly teen girls (of course) and their mothers (understandable), but there wasn’t a male in the theater, which did surprise me because it may have been made for the teen girl market but it is virtually soft porn for the teen boys, if you get my drift. Lots of beautiful girls in spandex with close-ups of their various body parts as they get hot and sweaty while exercising. Hmmm. It seems like a natural magnet for boys and baby dykes. I’m neither, but hey! if you fall into either category you may want to run on down to the Essex Cinemas and tell Karen Chapman “Stick It.”

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