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review added: 4/16/01



Girlfight
2000 (2001) - Screen Gems (Columbia TriStar)

review by Dan Kelly of The Digital Bits

Enhanced for 16x9 TVs

Girlfight

Film Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B+/B/B-

Specs and Features

110 mins, R, letterboxed widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 enhanced, full frame (1.33:1), double-sided, single-layered, Amaray keep case packaging, audio commentary with director Karyn Kusama, "making of" featurette, theatrical trailers (for Girlfight, Black and White and Charlie's Angels), film-themed menu screens, scene access (28 chapters), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0) and French (DD 2.0), subtitles: English, Spanish and French, Closed Captioned

To the fullest extent of the word, Diana Guzman is a fighter. Her hot temper and fast-flying fists often get her in trouble, both at school and at home. The first time we see Diana (played by Michelle Rodriguez), she's standing in front of her school locker with an icy, piercing glare aimed directly at the camera. It's not the kind of stare you'd want to be on the receiving end of. It's the beginning of the school day and already she's in a fight with another girl. Her home life is no cakewalk either. Diana's constantly at odds with her father (Paul Calderon) about the death of her mother, and his constant pressure on her younger brother (Ray Santiago) to stop wasting his time with dreams of being an artist. But when Diana's father asks her to go pick her brother up from the gym, she sees something there that sparks her interest. The gym is full of people harnessing their energy and anger in the boxing ring.

After some convincing from Diana, her brother decides to stop attending the boxing lessons to let Diana go in his place. She has no money to pay for the lessons and, even if she did, their father wouldn't allow it. But once she gets started, Diana quickly learns her way around the ring and is soon be ready to fight an actual match. Her success in the ring also renews her confidence in other aspects of her daily life. She meets Adrian (Santiago Douglas), another boxer in her same weight class, and immediately falls for him. Soon, however, the strength of their relationship will be put to the test when their lives, inside and outside of the ring, clash in ways the two of them never imagined.

Girlfight director Karyn Kusama wisely sidesteps the temptation to make the film's fights the centerpiece of the story. Sure, the fights are well-staged and engaging in their own right. But the real heart of the story is Diana and her daily struggles with school, family and boys. I like the fact that Kusama never forgets that Diana is, after all, a teenager and has teenage problems. She doesn't get along with her brother, frequently argues with her father and her self-confidence constantly waivers between extreme highs and extreme lows. Needless to say, without a convincing actress in the lead, Girlfight wouldn't be able to deliver the goods. But Michelle Rodriguez is fierce and confident, and she brings an intensity and freshness to the role that perhaps only a newcomer can. Her performance makes it easier to swallow some of the film's rougher edges (and a resolution that isn't as satisfying as the build-up). Rodriguez is definitely the movie's biggest selling point and was enough to keep me involved with Girlfight from beginning to end.

As expected, Columbia TriStar released Girlfight to DVD, in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, with an anamorphic treatment. Culled from fresh, clean source material, the picture looks very good, but is not without minor problems. Color reproduction is faithful to the theatrical look of the film and has an intended gritty, bluish look to it. But while the black level is adequate, it lacks the depth that provides a more vivid theatrical image. Compression artifacting is kept to a bare minimum, and I didn't notice any edge enhancement. There is some grain inherent to the film stock - certainly that's how the film looked theatrically, but just be aware that this isn't reference quality.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is evenhanded and presents no real drawbacks, but it lacks the potency of films with a wider sound field. The majority of the action in the mix is geared toward the front portion of the sound system, and really packs a punch (pardon the pun) when necessary. The rear channels are used mostly for the music track and ambience. Bass response is also good, but again, it doesn't have the strength found in other, more active sound mixes. Both the English and French 2-channel mixes sound satisfactory, and offer a nice alternative for those without a 5.1 setup.

Columbia sometimes delivers more with their standard edition DVD's than other studios do with their similar releases. Lately, they've been including commentary tracks and featurettes with most of their releases and Girlfight continues that trend. The audio commentary by Kusama is filled with facts about the making of the film, and there are rarely long lapses in her dialogue. She also shares quite a bit about the ins and outs of being a first time filmmaker. Kusama mentions that the first cut of the film was three hours long (!), so it's a little disappointing that some of that footage didn't find its way to the DVD as cut scenes. The featurette is of the same kind we've seen many times before - it's a brief, 5-minute piece meant solely to pique your interest in the film. It doesn't really offer anything that you don't get in the commentary, except for a few snippets of the actors. Top that off with a trio of trailers geared toward independent TriStar fare (Girlfight and Black and White) and other ass-kickin' chick flicks (Charlie's Angels), and you've got a nice, a little-better than basic set of extras to sit through.

Girlfight is a winner, filled with strong spirit and backed by surprisingly adept direction and acting by first-timers Kusama and Rodriguez. It was an award-winning hit at the 2000 Sundance Festival and performed respectably in limited theatrical release. Hopefully, the buzz the film created last year will carry over to home video success. This is a good DVD, with a nice presentation of a worthy indie hit.

Dan Kelly
dankelly@thedigitalbits.com




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