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Columbia TriStar Home Video presents
Girlfight (2000)

Hector: There's plenty of things you can do better with your life than box.
Diana: Prove it.

- Jaime Tirelli, Michelle Rodriguez

Review By: Dan Heaton   
Published: March 26, 2001

Stars: Michelle Rodriguez, Jaime Tirelli, Santiago Douglas
Other Stars: Ray Santiago, Paul Calderon, Elisa Bocanegra
Director: Karyn Kusama

Manufacturer: DVDS
MPAA Rating: R for language
Run Time: 01h:50m:45s
Release Date: March 27, 2001
UPC: 043396056688
Genre: drama

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- AB+A- A-

DVD Review

Diana Guzman (Michele Rodriguez) strolls down the school hallways burning with careless rage. One snide comment will set her off on a rampage against a snobbish classmate. Her father gambles his days away within the haze of alcohol and doesn't understand or respect her. Diana resides in the Brooklyn projects of Red Hook - a run-down, brutal neighborhood that cares for no one. Her mother is gone. Little optimism exists in her life, until she decides to become a boxer and discovers love.

The compelling debut film from writer/director Karyn Kusama, Girlfight follows Diana through problems in school and home to her salvation - the gym and her training sessions with Hector (Jaime Tirelli). He responds cynically in the beginning, but then quickly discovers her true spirit and heart. Although considered a loser by almost everyone, Diana has an inner strength that reveals itself in boxing. She also becomes involved in a complex relationship with Adrian (Santiago Douglas), a handsome boxer who hopes to become a professional someday. Their tender connection allows her to discover a softer, different side of herself away from her chaotic life.

The gritty, realistic tone is startling for a directorial debut, and it indicates Kusama's refreshing understanding of the characters and their thoughts. Without unnecessary movements, the camera pulls into Diana's eyes and reveals her true feelings. This underdog story will invite obvious comparisons to Rocky, and several similarities do exist, including the idea that if people have confidence, they can accomplish anything. That movie, however, is much more of a straight crowd-pleaser, with Rocky's "victory" of going the distance occurring in the ring. In Girlfight, Diana's choice to become a boxer is more daring. Regardless of the final outcome, she succeeds simply by making the attempt to start a new life. While both films are character studies, Kusama pulls us into the mind of each person, and we share their emotional pratfalls and highlights from a more intimate perspective.

Kusama's directorial approach aligns itself with that of John Sayles (Lone Star, City of Hope), one of the film's executive producers. Sayles directs with a wonderful focus on understanding the thoughts and motivations of his subjects. While his films often contain compelling plots, the details never overwhelm the characters and push them into the background. Kusama tackles the compelling subject of a woman in the male boxing world, but the personal interaction carries the film. Diana's relationships with Adrian, her father, Hector, and her younger brother Tiny (Ray Santiago) keep the story moving and interesting. Scenes don't exist just to move the plot, but also showcase the thoughts of each individual.

Michele Rodriguez gives a gritty debut performance that brings the audience inside of Diana's tough exterior. Her eyes often tell the story as they glower with anger towards challengers inside the ring and out. Rodriguez's boxing training added essential touches of realism to the story, and it remains fascinating because she's not a perfect boxer in the end. Unlike the silly fight scenes of the Rocky sequels, these sequences are quick and exciting, but remain accurate and understandable. With each successive fight, Rodriguez deftly makes subtle changes to Diana's skills and improving confident demeanor.

While Rodriguez's performance is the centerpiece of the film, the supporting cast also shines. Jaime Tirelli remarkably portrays Hector, Diana's trainer. He slowly gains confidence in her as he discovers her heart, and he becomes the father figure Diana needs. Hector also keeps her focused in the ring and pushes her training to a higher level. In his best scene, Tirelli discusses his own boxing career with an excellent mix of acquired wisdom and yearning for the past. Santiago Douglas also gives a strong performance as Adrian, a talented fighter who finds his mental equal in Diana. While his role could have been one-sided, he adds extra emotion and humanity to his conflicted character.

Girlfight does contain its share of plot conventions, including the final fight (with the expected opponent) and the training sequences. However, Kusama overcomes most of the usual fight-film clichés by focusing on the humanity of the story. Her direction (she won a well-deserved Sundance Director's Award) works amazingly well and keeps the events powerful and real. The simpler emphasis on character places her on an echelon separate from the unfortunate direction of much of Hollywood today.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyesno

Image Transfer Review: Girlfight contains a choice between widescreen and full screen transfers on opposite sides of the disc. The obvious superior is the 1.85:1 widescreen anamorphic transfer, which shines with radiant colors. The bright red colors of the wall in the gym and the school lockers stand out impressively. However, a slight level of grain does exist throughout the film that is mildly distracting. It's an impressive visual transfer overall, but it falls a bit short of being pristine. The lesser full-frame picture includes the usual shortcomings of this format, but it's acceptable enough for viewers with a phobia for widescreen transfers.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0English, Frenchyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: The powerful piano score really drives Diana's story, especially during the training and fights in the second half. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital transfer succeeds wonderfully during the boxing matches. Each blow resounds strongly in the side and rear speakers, and the music keeps the action tense and exciting. Even though much of the movie involves dialogue, the score is crucial, and the audio track supports the force of the story. This disc also contains a decent 2.0-channel Dolby Surround transfer.

Audio Transfer Grade: A-


Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
Cast and Crew Biographies
Cast and Crew Filmographies
1 Original Trailer(s)
2 Other Trailer(s) featuring Black and White, Charlie's Angels
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by writer/director Karyn Kusama
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extras Review: Writer-director Karyn Kusama speaks with an intelligence and understanding of film that is amazing for a first-time director. Her feature-length commentary is a fascinating explanation of the ideological and technical aspects of the movie. Kusama's comments stray from simple explanations of scenes, and they focus more on her ideas for the characters. It's interesting to learn how they coped with a small budget and shot much of the film on location. Kusama has sentimental views about boxing and understands its allure, and this really helps the story.

This disc also contains a brief featurette, cast and crew information, and several theatrical trailers. The five-minute featurette is fairly pointless promotional information, but Karyn Kusama does provide a few interesting insights. Most of the running time consists of various scenes with voice-over narration. The cast section contains short biographies and selected filmographies for Kusama, executive producer John Sayles, Michelle Rodriguez, Jaime Tirelli, Paul Calderon, and Santiago Douglas. The trailers for Girlfight, Black and White, and Charlie's Angels are presented in nice 1.85:1 widescreen transfers.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

One of the best films of 2000, Girlfight provides a compelling look at realistic characters with actual problems. While its focus is boxing, it also has plenty to say about life and the tough choices we make. Spurred by an impressive debut performance from Michelle Rodriguez, this inspiring story grabs you by the heart and won't let go.


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