Following in the fancy footwork of Bring It On, Jessica Bendinger’s Stick It lovingly pokes fun at the world of competitive gymnastics.
Stick It starts off like it’s going to be another empty-headed teen movie about punks sticking it to society. Trespassing on a housing construction site, a group of kids thrash about on their bikes in an empty pool.
The stunts lead to a dare between two cliques of hooligans.
Before you can say, “behave,” the damage is done and a beautiful picture window is trashed.
The guilty party is an ominously hoodied figure, far from being just another one of the boys. Her name is Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym, TV’s Smallville).
Haley’s voiceover fesses up to her ongoing “flirtation” with the police department. She’s a 17-year-old whose bedroom walls are covered with posters of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols while her shelves are full of trophies from competitive gymnastics.
Apprehended while fleeing the scene of the crime, Haley’s antics finally catch up with her but good.
Facing $14,000 in restitution for the damages her shenanigans brought about, Haley is given a choice: attend either military academy or VGA.
Well, OK. She’s given the options, but the choice is handed down by the judge: VGA. That’s the Vickerman Gymnastics Academy. She’ll have to put her athletic prowess under the tutelage of the not-so-legendary Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges, The Big Lebowski).
Shortly thereafter it finally becomes clear, at least to those who rank watching gymnastics on par with a torturous evening of American Idol, “stick it” isn’t always meant as an anti-social request; in this case it refers to a stellar dismount from the balance beam.
Once the movie gets into full swing at the VGA, it settles into a lightly farcical mix of antics reminiscent of Bring It On and the more recent Mean Girls. Helping to sell the material is a cast of relative upstarts, including Peregrym and Vanessa Lengies (The Perfect Man) as Joanne, Haley’s some-time adversary.
Giving the project credibility and marquee value is Bridges, who turns Burt Vickerman into a mix of his legendary Dude character and Bela Karolyi. For Vickerman, it’s not about “jazz hands,” it’s all about getting girls past that period when their parents are still in charge, still trying to shape them into the ultimate championship-winning daughters that forego dating and prom in hopes of an all-too-elusive dream.
Bendinger, who also wrote for Sex and the City, proves once again she is in touch with the pulse of young women, this time taking her humorous outlook from the page to the director’s chair in her directorial debut. And she is indeed a talented director, pulling performances out of her young cast that perfectly portray attitude, wit, sarcasm, and all that catty competition between schoolgirls (and the women they grow up to be).
As an added bonus, Bendinger throws in some nifty choreography of the girls going through their synchronized warm-up routines that harks back to the days of those glorious Busby Berkeley musicals. That’s on top of a colorful style that introduces the main characters, as seen through Haley’s not-so-rosey glasses, with background information including Zodiac signs like “bitch” and “crab.”
Girls Just Wanna Have Fun
Haley’s history as a loose canon has haunted her throughout her teenage years. As described by Burt, she’s an extremely judgmental person who hates being judged. Compounding the difficulty of her youth, she baulked at a Worlds meet, costing her team the gold.
Thanks to Burt’s hands-off approach, Haley eventually comes around to seeing the light and, in a moment of openness, Haley offers up the apology to one of her teammates, “I didn’t mean to wreck your Worlds”.
Stick It is chock full o’ quotable lines like that, with a few of the other notable ones including, “Don’t flush your life away, kid, step away from the bowl,” “I’m so sure, I’m practically deodorant,” and the thought-provoking observation, “It’s not called gymnicetics.” An extremely bright girl, one who earned her GED at the tender age of 15, Haley totes a sharp mind and stunning athletic ability. It’s a shame she has to waste brainpower and energy contending with the split of her parents, a divorce brought on by her mom’s cheating with one of the coaches.
The various subplots weave together into a teenage American quilt. When the archaic rules of gymnastics judging lead to an organized rebellion on the gym floor, Stick It turns into a solid, good old-fashioned crowd-pleaser. While the core audience is most definitely “tweeners” and teenage girls, the movie is a lively enough concoction that achieves an appeal far wider than the gymnastic feats that inspired it.