With a gritty blue-collar background and a love interest named Adrian (Santiago Douglas), the protagonist of Girlfight comes off as an homage to Rocky. But this boxer's a she.
Girlfight follows tough outsider Diana (Michelle Rodriguez) from a difficult home life to early flirtations with pugilism as a way of venting steam. Anger is something the Brooklyn girl stocks in surplus, and Rodriguez glowers with palpable intensity. A veteran trainer grudgingly agrees to give Diana lessons, and this bundle of tension and power is soon ready to box against boys in the featherweight division. A refreshing gender schism goes electric when Diana faces her boyfriend in the ring en route to the Big Fight.
With its one-two punch of first-time writer-director Kusama and first-time film actress Michelle Rodriguez, Girlfight knocked the socks off Sundance critics. True, the trajectory follows a fairly standard sports arc. But Michelle Rodriguez energizes the movie as its strong Latina center. Rodriguez even bears an uncanny resemblance to Marlon Brando. Not entirely new, Girlfight's noteworthiness comes from its headstrong fighting instincts.