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Movie Review

Once every four years our collective attention is turned toward the muscular magic of the Olympic gymnast. She performs all manner of jumps, tumbles and twirls and then, in her vernacular, attempts to "stick it" (plant the landing with proper technique and no stumbles).

In the middle of that four-year cycle, Touchstone Pictures would have us turn our attention to fictional gymnast Haley Graham. Make that ex-gymnast. Haley's done with gymnastics. Or at least she thinks she is. In her short, high-flying life, the rebellious teen has become adept at defying laws—both criminal and gravitational. And having forsaken the strict rules, rigorous judging and daunting discipline of elite gymnastics, she now hangs out with a pair of extreme dirt bike riders, eager to attempt any jump that no one else will dare.

During one such aerial stunt, Haley ends up smashing through an expensive plate glass window and is arrested for her efforts. Instead of jail time, the judge sentences her to gym time at a nearby gymnastics academy.

Coach Burt Vickerman, an embattled instructor who used to be a world-class competitor but who's now considered second-string, runs the gym with a no-nonsense approach. After Haley grumbles and gripes about not wanting to be there, the coach lays it on the line for her. She can put in some effort, work toward the upcoming competition and earn her way free of her restitution debt—or go to jail. It's a tough choice for Haley, but she reluctantly agrees to train and compete.

Naturally, her dishonorable reputation precedes her. (And she's not just your gymnasium-variety rebel either; she abandoned her U.S. teammates in the middle of a World Championship meet two years previous.) Her welcome back is hardly warm.


Positive Elements

Everyone had assumed that Haley walked out on her teammates because she was a spoiled brat, angry over point deductions. That's not why she did it. And when Coach Vickerman finds out the real reason, his attitude begins to soften toward Haley. Although it's difficult for him to look past his own personal wounds, he works hard to support and mentor her. He gives her second and third and fourth chances to "come around," and when she begins to do so, he puts a good word in for her to her sentencing judge. As is so often the case, his care for her starts to impact him in positive ways, too, as he begins to deal more truthfully with his students.

Eventually, as Haley adapts to her new support system, she makes efforts to open up to her new teammates and apologize to the people she hurt. Some former teammates rebuff her, but her efforts eventually bear fruit.

We also see the benefit of Haley's recommitment to discipline. It's painful, but with work she begins to run faster, jump higher and take the edges off sloppy moves. And although Haley's two dirt biker buddies are portrayed as a couple of drooling delinquents (for comedic effect), they are also very supportive of Haley's gymnastic abilities and stand up for their friend several times.

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

There is a certain sensuality surrounding some of the camera angles used as we watch the girls practice and perform in skintight leotards (with close-ups of ripped abs and taut thighs). One series of up-close-and-personal shots show the girls applying a sticky spray to their backsides to keep their leotards from creeping up. Also, Haley's habit of immersing herself in an ice-bath after her workouts gives the camera opportunity to watch her while she's wearing nothing but sports undergarments.

Haley's randy friends ogle the girls and make Wayne's World-style comments about how "hot" they are. At a competition, they watch the girls jumping and say with a leer, "How did we not hear about this sport?"

The girls, meanwhile, blame their lack of romantic suitors on their small breast sizes. A key point in the film is made by the girls pulling their bra straps out from under their uniforms. While trying on prom dresses, the athletes take to doing gymnastic moves in the store, which reveal their underwear. Haley's mom is seen in several low-cut, cleavage-baring outfits.

Violent Content

Girls fall—hard—while practicing and competing. At one point a girl crashes down onto the balance beam and crumples to the floor. (This is inappropriately played as comedy.) Similarly, Coach Vickerman is talked into showing the girls his moves on a trampoline. He bounces himself right into the hospital.

As mentioned, Haley crashes through a window while trick riding. A skateboarder wipes out in an empty swimming pool. Haley and Joanne nearly come to blows and the two have to be separated. A daydream of sorts shows girls pushing each other off the medal podium after a competition. The scene dissolves back into reality as a jealous judge pushes a girl down to claim the gold for himself.

Crude or Profane Language

Crude language and gymnastics tumble on the same mat here with the s-word getting exercised several times. Also making it into the gym: "a--", "h---," "d--n" and slang references to parts of the male and female anatomy. God's name is exclaimed a handful of times; Jesus' is used for swearing once or twice. Song lyrics include the f-word; producers mute most of it.

Drug and Alcohol Content

After exhausting, painful workouts, Haley begins to have dreams about a store filled with bottles of prescription painkillers. However, when she begins putting them in her basket, she sees that they have warning labels on them that say things like: "Will Cause Broken Neck." Clearly, Stick It wants it to be known that drugs and athletics don't mix.

As everyone is preparing for the big competition, coaches and judges gather at a party and all have some form of alcohol at hand. One female coach is obviously inebriated and puts "moves" on a male associate.

Other Negative Elements

Early on, we see a brief scene between Haley and her dad in her bedroom. It's obvious that they haven't been getting along and Haley has been acting out—her room looks like a graffiti-painted alley behind an inner-city bus station. He says to her, "You used to be such a good kid." She retorts, "That's interesting—you used to be such a good dad ... guess we're even." Their relationship is never resolved.

In a similar parent-child scrape, Joanne and her mom go toe-to-toe over whether she's allowed to go to prom. Recognizing for the first time that her mom is more interested in the Olympics than in her, Joanne refuses to follow her lead, and Mom literally and figuratively walks away from her daughter.

[Spoiler Warning] Stick It's big finale is a public struggle between the athletes and the competition judges over their evaluation process. Furious that they have to live up to standards of perfection that are impossible to attain, the girls "stick it to the man" by picking their own winners and refusing to compete fairly. In doing so, they undermine the competition's integrity, and the film's final say-so on the subject intimates that conforming to a sport's (parent's, government's, etc.) rules makes you a sell-out and a mindless "robot."

In a comedic bit, a gymnastics judge is shown performing a floor routine. While doing so, his pants fall down around his ankles. One of Haley's male friends clowns around in a prom dress. To prove she's "living on the edge," Haley wears T-shirts that advertise troublesome rock bands Black Flag, The Ramones and Motorhead.


Haley starts out as what Coach Vickerman calls a "rebel without applause." But with time she actually rallies the whole squad to her side as they break gymnastic rules and rebel against authority. We're repeatedly reminded that the authority in question (self-focused parents and hard-hearted judges) are deserving of what's coming, but that doesn't soften the blow Haley's routine delivers. Holding this revolt up as heroic, and having Coach Vickerman (the only adult developed beyond one-and-a-half dimensions) support the choice, only serves to bolster the unfortunate Hollywood chestnut that adults are dumb, rules are for breaking and disobedience is not only fun but it is the only sure path to improvement or enlightenment.

To be fair, Stick It also turns out to be a story of second chances. Haley and Coach Vickerman are both wrestling with their own personal demons and are forced, begrudgingly, to have to deal with each other, too. This iron-sharpens-iron contact helps both of them break free from a self-imposed limbo they've been living in; he realizes that he can care about the girls and enjoy his coaching, and she finds a mentor who imparts support and encouragement.

Aesthetically, the movie is alternately silly and engagingly professional. Its obsession with grating catchphrases means audiences must endure such screenwriting gems as "I'm so sure, I'm practically deodorant" and "It's not called gymnicetics!" But its gymnastic feats are performed by wonderfully gifted stunt-doubles and athletes. First-time director Jessica Bendinger, who wrote the film's script (she also penned Aquamarine, First Daughter and Bring It On), creates a world of young competitors that is both grueling (the strain, the injuries, the ice baths) and circus-like (odd Busby Berkeley routines). Talented gymnasts "stick it" in the gym while Bendinger has the actors they stand in for exercise the phrase's other meaning. It's a strange and curious mix that won't win any medals—artistically or morally.

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