There is only one reason I ever watch the Olympics: Women’s Gymnastics. This year is especially exciting because 16-year-old Gabby Douglas may become the first African American female gymnast to earn a gold medal in an individual event (Dominique Dawes was the first to earn an individual medal, a bronze, and the first to ever win a gold medal in gymnastics, which she won as a part of Team USA.) Gabby is the first African-American female gymnast to compete for Team USA in the Olympics since Dawes’ last appearance, which is cause enough for celebration. And, since the rest of the Olympics is so boring why not kill the time between gymnastics with more gymnastics?! STICK IT!!! Defy and Conquer.
First of all, this movie is awesome. Haley (Missy Peregrym) is a talented gymnast who mysteriously walked out of the World Gymnastics competition costing Team USA the gold medal. So, pretty much everyone hates her – especially her peers and former teammates. Haley would rather go to jail then do gymnastics, which is exactly the choice she is confronted with until a judge, who knows better, instead orders her to return to the world of competitive gymnastics and train with Coach Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges). Stick It was also written and directed by a woman, Jessica Bendinger, a former model who first came to success as the writer of Bring it On. Bendinger clearly has a voice for the American teen girl experience and chooses to explore these overwhelmingly female spaces with depth, intelligence and humor.
Anyone who has ever played a competitive sport will like this movies for its bird’s-eye view into competition, training and the love/hate relationship of dedicating your life and your body to an uncertain future. But, as a former gymnast and a dancer, I felt an especially strong connection to these characters and their experiences. Without preaching, Stick It takes on huge issues like the judgment of women’s bodies by themselves and other women, female competitive relationships, and the challenging systems that keep women from succeeding. In gymnastics, athletes compete collaboratively as a team, while also competing individually on each event. So, while the athletes are motivated to perform well for their team, they are also competing against their teammates with hope of medaling as an individual. This provides an interesting parallel to the conflicts built in to normative female relationships where women are encouraged to compete with each other rather than build supportive relationships to encourage each other. Haley embodies the personal side of this conflict in her own struggle for self-expression through sport that is built around conforming to rules. As the film progresses, we are given more insight in Haley as a character and her emotional process is both heartbreaking and inspiring.
This is such a positive film for teen audiences because it is a story of independence, rebellion, and self-discovery. What is most revolutionary about Stick It is that it provides a narrative where the girls become their own agents for change through camaraderie and collective organization. Competition is usurped by collaboration as the girls rally together to disrupt the unfair judging process of their sport. Not only do they take a stand against a harsh system, and on some level a social ideology, they became liberated from the bounds of judgment and are able to perform for themselves and their peers in a way that satisfies a personal, rather than systemic, goal.