Toon Talk: Stick It
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by Kirby C. Holt
Touchstone Pictures and
MPAA Rating: PG-13
The cinematic tradition of the "underdogâ€? movie (unlikely hero overcomes adversity and, against all odds, triumphs joyfully in the final reel) goes back to the dawn of film. In the silent era, such early geniuses as Chaplin, Lloyd and Keaton built their careers on such a premise, mining comedic gold. Upon the advent of sound, and especially during the Great Depression, these inspirational stories evolved and grew in popularity, from Wallace Beery in The Champ to the oeuvre of Frank Capra, represented onscreen by such all-American icons as Gary Cooper (Meet John Doe, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town) and James Stewart (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, It's a Wonderful Life).
As the decades wore on, such sentimentality was replaced by the cynicism and realism of the films of the 60's and early 70's. It took a then unknown actor named Sylvester Stallone to revive the "underdogâ€? movie with a little film about a South Philly boxer named Rocky. A surprise smash, the low-budget sleeper went on to win the Best Picture Oscar and spawned four sequels (a fifth -!- was recently announced) and dozens of imitators to this day. Usually centered on a sports theme (The Karate Kid, Rudy, The Rookie), the genre has also been stretched to include everything from ballet dancing (Billy Elliot) to mathematics (Good Will Hunting) to rap music (8 Mile).
In all these Rocky-like movies, the protagonist has been male, so it is only natural that another variation on the theme could be accomplished merely by switching genders. After all, girl soccer players (Bend It Like Beckham), horse jockeys (National Velvet) and even boxers (Million Dollar Baby, starring Hilary Swank, the poster girl for "Rockettesâ€? everywhere) have one more thing going "againstâ€? them in their male-dominated arenas, increasing audience empathy for the characters and making their eventual victories all the more uplifting.
With the success of Bring It On (see sidebar), it was proven that even cheerleaders can get the Rocky treatment, so it was inevitable that the other big female-centric sport, gymnastics, would eventually be the setting of a modern "underdogâ€? movie, which brings us to the present and Touchstone Pictures' latest release, Stick It, in theaters today.
With that title (which makes it sound like another Margaret Cho concert film) and a script and direction by Jessica Bendinger, the screenwriter of said Bring It On, one would expect an irreverent yet free-spirited romp, simultaneously tweaking and celebrating the world of gymnastics, much like what Bring It On did to pep squads. And while Stick It (the term refers to "stickingâ€? a landing after a gymnastic leap) tries really hard to follow the same model, it mostly scratches.