Directed by Jessica Bendinger. Starring Jeff Bridges, Missy Peregrym, Vanessa Lengies, Nikki SooHoo, Maddy Curley, Kellan Lutz, John Patrick Amedori, Jon Gries, Polly Holliday. (2006, PG-13, 105 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., April 28, 2006
Jessica Bendinger, the writer of the hugely successful teen comedy Bring It On (and a regular visitor to the Austin Film Festival and Screenwriters Conference), debuts as the director of her own material with Stick It, a teen comedy set in the world of competitive gymnastics. Like Bring It On, Stick It is so much better than most of its insipid teen-movie peers yet like her earlier movie, Bendinger’s new one is also not all it might be. In its favor, Bendinger refrains from taking the obvious Hollywood path and sublimating her story to the more immediate delights of watching limber teenage girls parading around in skintight leotards and lathering up in the showers after strenuous workouts. There is actually a good story here about teenage rebellion and competitive drive and banding together to fight injustice – albeit the injustice of the judges who deduct points from a gymnast’s perfect routine because of a visible bra strap. However, there’s too much going on in Stick It – what with parent problems, boys, a mercenary coach, peer pressure, and snarky infighting – to feel as though any of the story threads have been developed and resolved satisfactorily before diverting sole attention to the climactic sequences of the formulaic “big competition.” A few completely diversionary interludes that ape the elaborate choreography of Busby Berkeley sequences are delightfully out of place, although playful and inventive. Peregrym anchors the story as Haley Graham, a teenaged tomboy of divorced parents who gets into a scrape with the law and is sent to do time at Vickerman Gymnastics Academy. A former junior-level champion, she tarnished her reputation when she inexplicably walked away from the finals before competing. Peregrym casts a believable figure as the sullen athlete, calling to mind physical memories of Nancy McKeon as the tomboy Jo crashing the gates of the refined private school in The Facts of Life. Bridges, as always, turns in dependable work as the hard-nosed coach Vickerman, but the character comes with a little too much backstory that neither advances the plot nor finds resolution. The film’s implicit message about the questioning of authority is indeed welcome, and those color-coordinated leotards make for a fanciful palette, but Stick It’s chaotic mélange stuffs too much into its unforgiving spandex form.