Certain things1 lately2 have been making me just a tiny bit tetchy and upset so I thought I would work out my feelings by watching Michelle Rodriguez as Diana Guzman in Girlfight.

I love this movie. Saw it first when it came out in 2000. Loved it even more on this second viewing. There aren’t many movies about female rage. There aren’t many movies about powerful, strong women outside of science fiction, where they’re all too often sexualised and trivialised.3 Guzman is a girl who wants to learn how to box and she’s really good at it.

So Girlfight is a sports movie. Outside of dance movies there’s nothing I love more than sports movies.4 I love that they all have the same basic elements:

  1. Protag with burning desire to be a dancer/athlete who convinces unwilling guru to take them on as a student.
  2. Family and/or financial obstacles.
  3. Lots of training.
  4. Romantic entanglement(s).
  5. Climatic contest/finals.

Girlfight has all of these, but never feels cliched. What keeps it fresh is how real the movie is: the script is excellent, particularly the dialogue, the casting spot on, and the location shooting and sets are so real you can smell the dank sweat and grime of the gym.

And Michelle Rodriguez seethes. But is also vulnerable and raw and, yes, real.5 She reminds me of Micah Wilkins, the protag of Liar. Not physically, but emotionally, and in the way she moves and navigates through life: her pain and her anger are very like Micah’s. I wonder if subconsciously I was thinking about Girlfight when I wrote Liar? Diana Guzman even has a younger brother (though he’s lovely) and lives in a tiny flat in New York City (though it’s Brooklyn not Manhattan).

The fights are totally convincing.6 It totally looks like punches are being given and received. Even her black eyes convinced me.7

The romance works. It doesn’t feel tacked on. I love seeing a male and female boxer negotiating what it means for them to fight each other in the ring. A female fighter is not perceived in the same way that a male one is. Most people see a fight between the two as no win for the guy. If he loses he’s a wuss, if he wins, well, der, of course, he’s the guy. Or he’s a thug.

I love that there are gentle, loving men in this movie who are able to show it. I love Hector, Diana’s trainer. I love her brother Tiny. And her romantic interest, Adrian.

And, yes, this movie passes the Bechdel test. Diana’s best friend doesn’t have a big role but she’s there and they talk about things other than boys. Could that be because it was written and directed and produced by women? Karyn Kusama’s brilliant writing and directing of this movie almost makes me want to see Jennifer’s Body which she also directed.

Did I mention that Girlfight is totally YA? Diana’s in her final year of high school.

The final fight is AWESOME. But the resolution is even better.

I guess what I’m saying is if you haven’t seen Girlfight then you really need to. Like NOW.

It makes me want to write a proper sports novel. I do have a kernel of an idea for a WNBA one . . .

  1. Like the people who responded to Rihanna’s moving interview about domestic violence by talking about her forehead being too big. WTF? 1) Her forehead is gorgeous 2) Way to attempt to change the subject. Talking about domestic violence makes you uncomfortable, doesn’t it? Poor baby. []
  2. I’m not going to link to any of the horrific events that have taken place over the last few days. Too upsetting. []
  3. You know what I mean. All those movies where the main response is: “Girls kicking butt is hawt!” []
  4. I am more and more convinced that any movie without a training montage is not worth seeing. []
  5. Sorry to overuse the word. []
  6. I adore Love and Basketball but the games are not convincing. I never believe that the two leads have real hops. Especially not the guy. []
  7. Though they could have had more swelling. Just sayin’. []


  1. Jennifer on #

    I was reading this on my reader and automatically read your list as the footnotes. Giggle. Makes more sense when you read the whole thing! I’m not a sports person myself, but I’m pleased to see more ya fiction focused on girls and sports, b/c I know a lot of our teen girls are very sports-minded here and also love to read!

  2. Stephanie G on #

    Have you seen “Bend it Like Beckham”? Based on this post, I think you would like it.

  3. Doret on #

    Million Dollar Baby vs Girlfight. Which one wins? And is it a TKO or Judges decision?

    When I read Liar I couldn’t help but notice and love the bit of basketball, you were able to sneak in. Justine from that small showing I know you could work out a basketball novel.

    One of the things I love about sports books is they can’t be faked. Only a fan could write them. And thus the beauty comes from their love of the game.

    Read a great YA book featuring a female boxer this year –
    The Ring by Bobbie Pyron.

    Two basketball books I highly recommand
    Boost by Kathy Mackel – the MC reminds me a lot of DJ from Diary Queen

    The Necessary Hunger by Nina Revoyr. – Loved this. The author wrote some serious game on the court.

    Hope you don’t mind the suggestions. Just got off work still in seller mode.

  4. Sam on #

    Without having seen Girlfight, I love that the movie is about a (female) boxer with a (male) love interest called Adrian. ADRIAAAAAN!

  5. Mel on #

    From reading the link, I thought the way Rihanna responded was incredibly mature and showed a lot of self awareness. I guess there’ll always be someone who misses the point.

    And I do so need to see Girlfight.

  6. LaurieA-B on #

    I will take your recommendation of Girlfight, and offer Girls Town (1996) as another good movie about female rage. And it’s totally YA too.

  7. Carrie V. on #

    You must see “Whip It.” Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut. It’s about roller derby, and it presents it as an actual sport rather than spectacle. Very cool. Lots of tough women characters, too.

  8. Justine on #

    Stephanie: Yes, I’ve seen Bend It Like Beckham. Not as good as Girlfight but very entertaining.

    Carrie V.: Yeah, saw Whip it. I wasn’t hugely impressed. Part of that was because a friend told me it’s just as good as Bring It On which it most certainly is not. (Wasn’t funny!) Also I did not buy Ellen Page as a skater. And it spent way too much time on the very dull romance and not enough time with the derby and the skaters, who were way more interesting.

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