An aimless young man who is scalping tickets, gambling and drinking, agrees to coach a Little League team from the Cabrini Green housing project in Chicago as a condition of getting a loan from a friend.
At 18, Diana has a chip on her shoulder; she's close to expulsion from high school for fighting, her mother is dead, her dad is surly, the popular girls at school set her teeth on edge, she knows men can cause pain. When she picks up her younger brother at a Brooklyn gym where he boxes to please his father, she decides she wants to train. Hector, a coach, reluctantly agrees to teach her. It's soon clear to him that Diana has talent; he pushes her. She spends time with another young fighter, Adrian, who has a girlfriend, but Diana intrigues him and stirs real feelings he tries to articulate. She, too, must accommodate her toughness and ironic detachment to her feelings for him. Written by
An average but enjoyable character piece that is vastly improved by a moody Rodriguez
Being a regular troublemaker at school, Diana starts to entertain the idea of learning to box properly like her brother is allowed to do. Knowing her father will never let her do it she steals the money from him and starts to train with Hector. Quickly improving in the ring despite the hoots of derision aimed at her from her fellow boxers, Diana finds problems with a lack of female opposition, love in the shape of another up and coming amateur and a conflict on the horizon with her father bound to find out sooner or later.
I'm not sure where I got the idea but for years I had the impression that this was a foreign indie film that had made a big impression and was critically praised. Mostly for these reasons I did really want to see it but never got round to it until it came onto television recently. By this point I had realized that it was an American movie with some indie aspirations but not the grit or adult content I had expected anyway, this preconception was my fault so I put it out of my mind and settled to watch it. The story is a fairly straightforward tale of a teenage girl trying to cut an unusual path in her life, facing and overcoming obstacles along the way. In this regard it is all pretty standard stuff, although the boxing content made it more interesting for me. It is reasonably well written and brings in some themes of domestic violence, back story and so on, without ever really getting to grips with any of them that well.
However what makes the film much better than it could have been was the realistic, convincing and moody playing of newcomer (at the time) Michelle Rodriguez. At times she pushes it a bit too close to being a typical "whatever" teenager and loses our interest but for the most part we can see real heart in her character and she keeps us onside with just enough of a look inside her to keep caring. The direction is also good matching Rodriguez down-to-earth performance by not playing up the boxing scenes or any other aspect of Diana's life. Support is good from Tirelli, Calderon, Douglas and Santiago to name a few and they hold the ground well for Rodriguez to stand out.
Overall this is not a great film, it is an enjoyable one but it rarely is more than par for the course in many areas. The script is OK but doesn't expand very well on the things it hints at, while the boxing scenes never get that exciting (although perhaps this is a strength). What makes it better than the sum of its parts though is a strong performance from Rodriguez delivering a down to earth performance that manages to be defensive and vulnerable at the same time, matched by a gritty tone to the direction throughout. Flawed and nothing special but its good points are enough to make it worth seeing.
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