Lately there seems to be an increasing number of cheerleader flicks. Few may actual admit to seeing them, my excuse is I have to review them, but you know who you are and you’ve seen them. More and more cheerleading has become a branch of gymnastics so why bother with the excuse and take the film out of high school and into the world of world class gymnastics. ‘Stick It’ is such a film, concerned with the high pressure world of dedicated young women hoping for the Olympic gold medal. This film takes a touch of a comeback sports film, adds a little teen angst and tops it off with what you see a film like this for, some of the most amazing stunts possible.
At one time Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym) was one of the most promising young gymnasts in the country. While representing Team USA during a critical final match Haley disqualifies herself by just walking away from it all. While she had reasons that only a teenage girl might understand her actions caused her team to lose out of going to the Olympics. She returns to Plano, Texas where she beings associating with the local extreme skateboard crew including Frank (Kellan Lutz) and Poot (John Patrick Amedori). Even for those into X-games the stunts their kids pull off looks more like Cirque du Soleil on speed. With her physical training and innate sense of balance Haley manages to pull off some of the best stunts often posing mid air in a trademark act of defiance. While showing off on her motor bike she crashes through a window and finds herself under arrest. The judge (Polly Holliday) gives Haley a sentence worse than life imprisonment, she is sent to the Vickerman Gymnastic Academy in Houston under the control of the stern Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges). This sets up the rest of the flick to become a battle of wills between youthful enthusiasm and more mature meticulous planning. Haley knows her abilities are world class but she lacks the discipline required by the sport and her coach. Haley sees gymnastics as just another form of extreme sports. She wants to go all out with her performance regardless of the rules that govern. Vickerman on the other hand believes in the rules and wants anyone under his tutelage to obey them without question. He wants to motivate Haley but finds her attitude both her strongest characteristic and the potential for her failure. Haley also finds a lot of sources of friction with her teammates. Joanne Charis (Vanessa Lengies) is a tense competitor very prone to the use of rather bizarre malapropisms. Nikki SooHoo (Wei Wei Yong) is one of the youngest members of the team and finds it a challenge to fit in with the older girls. As difficult as this environment is for any at this level of competition Haley has the addition stress as the local pariah. Just about everyone knows about how she betrayed her team and cost them their shot at the ultimate gold medal. She even gets stuck with a very teen jargon nickname, Pariah Carey. Since this is part sports flick you know there is going to be a showdown at the end. The girls stage a little revolt to ensure only one competitor (guess who) gets to perform.
One thing to remember when considering this film is a single fact. Most reviewers are adults and the target audience for this film is the pre or early teenaged girls. I am not in the primary demographic of the flick but I do have a daughter that was that age once. I tried to look at this flick as I did so many films I watched when she was younger. With this in mind the film succeeds in what it sets out to do. It is a high energy romp through incredible stunts and athletic performances. We may find a 90 minute long music video tedious but then again most of us don’t keep a diary locked under our pillows. For us of more seasoned years the dialogue may seem trite and silly but to a 13 year-old girl this is something they can relate to. They can also identify with some of the themes presented here such as ostracism and individuality. Haley is a girl that has worked hard to master her abilities but she doesn’t see them in the same light as the adults that control her world. Haley has to deal not only with the pressures others put on her but also her demanding self image and expectations.
This is the freshman directorial effort for Jessica Bendinger but she is far from being a stranger to the young teen girl flick. Besides penning this film she as also written the original Bring it On, First Daughter and Aquamarine. In a little touch of irony she has also written scripts for Sex in the City, go figure. She seems to have retained the ability to connect with her intended audience. Bendinger provides and energetic film that allows escapism for the young girls out there. While men like to watch action crime dramas to get into a world they never could enter here Bendinger gives the girls something similar, a look at doing things they normally only see every four years on the Olympics. She also added a touch of realism by casting a few actual gymnasts as the teammates. It is something to watch as they apparently defy gravity. She brings her expertise in music videos and similar films to give the audience a film they can get into and enjoy.
Missy Peregrym certainly is up to her role. She has the required energy and ability but also displays an acting talent here. Peregrym displays just the right degree of angst and attitude required to make her character interesting. She also can draw in the young girls watching creating a portrayal of someone they can identify with. Vanessa Lengies is making a career out of playing either the best friend or arch teen enemy. She added a spark of life into the television series American Dream and brings the same intensity here. Her misuse of the English language is fun and lends a bit of uniqueness to her character.
Considering the intended audience no one should be surprised that this is a Disney production. They are just about the best around for the young girl set and this DVD is geared correctly for them. The anamorphic 1.85:1 video is excellent. The colors are vibrant and true to life. The Dolby 5.1 audio track may give a headache to anyone over 30 but it suites the film perfectly. The sub woofer roars out with a pounding beat while the rear speakers give a natural ambience. There is even a nice assortment of extras. There are two commentary tracks provided. The first is with Bendinger, Peregrym and Lengies. It comes across more like a slumber party than anything else. It is easy to see that Bendinger can relate to the young ladies of her cast. The next commentary is more technically oriented and features Bendinger, cinematographer Daryn Okada and editor Try Takaki. This may be more interesting for teens interested in film making. For featurettes there is ‘Hard Corps: The Real Gymnasts of Stick It’ which details what it took to get the routines on film. There are some deleted scenes and an outtake reel for a little extra look at the film. "Judge’s Table" shows three routines in detail and of course there is a music video. Consider this like a take your daughter to work day. If you have a daughter just entering her teens give her a treat and get this for her and watch it together.