“Girlfight” is the dramatic portrait of Diana Guzman (Michelle Rodgriquez), a quick-tempered young woman who finds discipline, focus and love in the most unlikely place – a boxing ring. A sullen, brooding teenager, Diana has a chip on her shoulder and spends her senior year in high school getting into fights. Sent on an errand for her father, Sandro (Paul Calderon), one day, Diana is introduced to the world of boxing at a gym in Brooklyn. Looking around, she realizes she has finally found a place where she belongs. There she begins training in secret with trainer Hector (Jaime Tirelli), and meets Adrian (Santiago Douglas), a fellow boxer. Gradually, through her training, Diana becomes confident enough to allow herself to become vulnerable – a burden that weighs heavily on her as she prepares for the most important fight of her life.
There have been several female boxer movies of late (“Knockout” being the most recent), but the star of this film actually looks like she is a boxer and wants to be one. As the angry and fearless Diana, Michelle Rodgriquez lowers her head and gazes forth with the same intensity as Jack Nicholson in “The Shining” just before he goes bonkers. There are some positives, such as the good relationship between brother and sister, and the training sessions between Diana and her boxing coach, played by Jaime Tirelli, who could pass for a Panamanian version of Joe Mantegna in both looks and strength of character. The story is involving, and despite its financial limits, it is well directed and produced. But I do have problems with the film. First off, I’m not sure any of these characters, with the exception of Hector, are positive role models. The lead is full of anger and finally learns how to express it by entering the ring. Joining a gender-blind boxing association, she even pugilates (boxes) with the opposite sex, including the dramatic climax where she squares off against her new boyfriend. This is a film aimed at the empowerment of women, so there is no question as to the outcome of the match. (But you know what they say, “The couple who spares together, stays together.”) The most troubling aspect for me, however, is the boxing arena as a means of expression. To many, pugilism is a noble sport. And surely, it has provided a livelihood for many a frustrated young person coming from a nowhere life. But in spite of its brain and brawn athleticism, I find the sport barbaric. Like viewing gladiators, people root for a boxer to beat his opponent’s brains in. And very few boxers retire from the ring without physical damage. This is done in the name of entertainment. I can’t recommend the film for family viewing due to the objectionable language and a violent act between a father and his daughter. A warlike relationship exists between them. It is implied that he used to beat his wife until she could take it no longer and committed suicide. The daughter will have none of that. At one point, they even get into a shoving match and she goes ballistic, nearly strangling him. (If you could see the arms on this girl, you’d believe she could do it.) There is never remorse between them nor reconciliation.