Stick It (2006)

It’s not called gym-nice-tics.

A few years ago, someone did a study to determine what the world’s most physically demanding sport is. Was it football? No. Was it the iron man triathlon? Nope. Was it roller derby? Guess again. Was it those huge guys who chain themselves to gigantic trucks and pull them up hills? Not even close.

The answer: gymnastics. This might seem odd from those on the outside looking in, but there’s an expertly-trained group of young ladies with dreams of Olympic gold on their minds that train harder and are more toned muscle-wise than any other athletes. No, really.

Writer and director Jessica Bendinger (writer of Bring It On and Aquamarine) is a former gymnast herself, and still follows the sport intensely. She brings all that experience to Stick It, opening up the world of elite gymnastics for the entire world to see.

When we first meet Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym, Smallville), she’s on the run from the police. In court, despite the disagreements of her squabbling parents, Haley is “sentenced” to attend a prestigious gymnastics academy. It turns out that this troublemaker is a former star, who mysteriously walked out of the world championship competition years earlier, disqualifying her team and earning the disgust of the gymnastics community.

The last thing Haley wants is to return to the sport, and her disregard for all of its rules and traditions make her immediately clash with coach Burt “Vick” Vickerson (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski) and young Olympic hopeful Joanne (Vanessa Lengies, Arthur). But when an upcoming competition offers Haley a second chance at freedom, she’s suddenly back in training. Can she put aside her sense of rebellion long enough to become a champion, or is there another way to win?

If you haven’t already guessed by now, Stick It is a movie in love with gymnastics. Keep in mind this isn’t quite the same as the gymnastics done by adolescent girls at your neighborhood gym. This is elite gymnastics, where girls train full time, around the clock, seven days a week. It’s all about competition, and taking home medals. So it’s great fun when a speaks-her-mind bad attitude type like Haley enters this world and stirs up trouble.

But while the film has fun with the world of gymnastics, it also pokes holes in the absurdities of the sport. The phrase “nobody’s perfect” becomes complicated when you’re a gymnast. Although no one is, in fact, perfect, gymnasts strive for perfection anyhow, and they more or less achieve it by pushing their bodies beyond all known physical limits. And then, some judges come along and meticulously critique the minutiae of each performance, letting the gymnasts know just how far from perfection they really are. Gymnasts constantly chase after an impossible ideal—now matter how great their skills, they’re still under the thumb of the judges.

But before dealing with all of that, you should know first that Stick It is a comedy at heart, and the dialogue is peppered with all sorts of little witticisms. Some of Haley’s snarky comments and Joanne’s dim-witted responses are winners, while others feel forced. Haley’s two buddies from her former life, played by Kellan Lutz (Accepted) and John Patrick Amedori (Vansihed) are the stock comic relief characters, and, as such, they get some of the broadest laughs.

When not making with the one-liners, the movie delivers on its promise of a lot of gymnastics. Floor routines, uneven bars, balance beams and such are the big set pieces here, and all the skill on display is beyond impressive. These young ladies show amazing skill, grace, and raw strength when flinging their own bodies through the air. Several real-life gymnast champions served as stand-ins for the main actresses and several more appear in bit parts and background roles. By the time the movie’s over, you’ll be exhausted after seeing all the flips, twirls, and, yes, the occasional painful-looking face plant into the mat.

All stories need conflict, of course, and tracking the conflict in Stick It gets tricky. At first, the conflict is between Haley and Vick. Then, it’s a rivalry between Haley and Joanne. Then, it’s another rivalry between Haley and one of her former teammates. Finally, it ends up being a conflict between the gymnasts and the judges. At first, I was frustrated by this, as it seemed inconsistent. But the more I’ve thought about it, I think perhaps Bendinger is going for a more natural approach in the plot. Most movie characters only have one thing to worry about at a time, because movie plots have to be streamlined to get the characters from point A to point B to point C within a two-hour runtime. In real life, though, we usually have a number of conflicts to worry about all at once, whether it’s work, relationships, family, writing DVD reviews, etc. So, in this naturalistic way, Haley has to deal with several ongoing conflicts, both with the competition, and with her personal life. With several plot threads and subplots to keep track of, Bendinger ties it all together at the end, which is just what we expect from movies like this.

Missy Peregrym does a fine job as the iconoclastic rebel, even though it’s clear she’s got a nice streak hiding underneath. I’ll admit she does mumble some of her lines, though, so think about watching with the subtitles on. Vanessa Lengies makes for a good comic foil to go up against Peregrym. Her initial bitchiness might come across a little strong, but as the movie progresses, Lengies shows a willingness to go to great lengths for a laugh. Maddy Curley, a real-life gymnast, and Nikki SooHoo (Testing Bob) make the most of their supporting roles, showing that their characters of stories of their own to tell. And let’s not forget the Dude himself, Jeff Bridges, as the gruff coach. Because Haley doesn’t have much of a relationship with her parents, her coach acts as a de facto father figure. Even though she stands up to him and usually has a sarcastic quip at the ready, he knows just how to deal with her, and he’s almost always one step ahead of her, much to her frustration. In addition, he too has a story arc of his own, where, like Haley, he’s looking for a second chance through this sport.

Another aspect of the movie I found interesting is how it skips over one of the most tired clichés of films in this genre. If this were any other movie, it would have introduced a Ken doll type of guy to romance Haley, have them to do the courtship ups and downs and finally end with the two of them in a big kiss just before the credits roll. Instead, the emphasis is on the story at hand, without an unnecessarily tacked-on love story. Haley is feisty, witty and strong willed, and she doesn’t need some beefy hunk with his arm around her shoulder to prove it—and I find that refreshing. Don’t worry, ladies, the movie does have a romantic subplot, and it’s a very amusing one, between the two characters least likely to fall for each other. But it’s still just that: a subplot, and one that thankfully doesn’t overshadow all the other action on screen.

No discussion of Stick It would be complete without mentioning the music. The film practically bombards viewers with the soundtrack, with song after song every couple of minutes. Some of this stinks of “Buy the CD! Buy the CD!” but, knowing how fractured the music scene currently is, Bendinger keeps the styles of songs varied, from hip hop to rock to rap to metal. An ’80s classic even gets dusted off and used at one point for the sake of us old-timers. Still, know that the movie is almost wall-to-wall music. If you’re fine with that, then crank up the volume.

Picture quality here is excellent. There are a lot of scenes with a red and white color scheme, which has been problematic in other DVDs, but the transfer here manages it with ease. As I wrote above, the audio makes the most of the many songs, making this a great “play it loud” disc. Interestingly, the subtitles not only help out when actresses mumble, but they also specify the titles and artists of each song (“Buy the CD! Buy the CD!”).

Bendinger appears on two commentary tracks, one with Peregrym and Lengies, and the other with the cinematographer and producer. Both tracks are overly self-congratulatory, but do contain some interesting nuggets of information here and there. Next, there’s a series of deleted and extended scenes, with two sets of commentary tracks for each by the same participants. Other extras focus more on the sport, with complete gymnastic routines from the film, and a slow motion look at the athletes in action. These also come with commentaries. A blooper reel shows the actors goofing off between takes, and the “Hard Corps” featurette lists the real gymnasts seen in the film. The extras are rounded out by two music videos from the soundtrack (“Buy the CD! Buy the CD!”).

Does this film glamorize the sport of gymnastics a little too much? The stunts here are eye-popping, but they’re physical acts that only a few hundred people in the entire world are able to do. Many young girls will no doubt want to don leotards and start flipping and twirling around their living rooms after seeing this movie, in the hopes of recreating the high-flying acts of the athletes here. On the other hand, the philosophy of gymnastics, as least as depicted in this film, is all about accomplishing the impossible. So if some young people are inspired to do so, in one way or another, after seeing this film, then why not?

Also: “Buy the CD! Buy the CD!”

I know a high school junior who recently told me that she thinks Stick It is the best movie ever made. Not Citizen Kane, not Casablanca, not even Raiders of the Lost Ark, but Stick It. While I’m not ready to give it that amount of praise, I’ll admit it’s an enjoyable, well-made romp through the world of gymnastics. If that interests you, then grab a copy today. If not, it’ll make a fine rental. Leotard not included.

The Verdict

The judges were ready to award this movie a 10.0, but one of its toes wiggled slightly during that third flip through the air, so it only gets a 9.2 instead.

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