Girlfight
dir. Karyn Kusama
Opens Fri Sept 29 at the Neptune.

I'M IN A PICKLE here. Girlfight is about boxing. Although I learned to love boxing at my grandpa's knee, I now understand that boxers get hurt in ways that can't be fixed. So, sanctimoniously, I feel more comfortable pretending that the conflict in this movie takes place--oh, let's say over a Scrabble board.

Okay. Diana, played by the hunky Michelle Rodriguez, is in trouble at her high school. We see her in an impromptu crossword match, and her principal warns her that one more unwarranted word-fest and she's expelled on the spot. Later that same day, Diana's father sends her on an errand to the local Scrabble club, where her brother takes lessons. Diana watches him squander a Q on a 12-point word with no bonus. Outraged, she pulls an F, an I, and an H from his tiles and slams down a triple-word FISH for 30 points. She sees a possible outlet for her aggressions.

One of many reasons for enjoying the movie is Jaime Tirelli as Hector, the coach who shapes Diana's raw talent into championship material. His role is under-written--all the secondary roles are, actually--but Tirelli manages to suggest unwritten complexities. Newcomer Karyn Kusama both wrote and directed, and her skill at this point lies more with actors than with scripts. Her mentor, John Sayles, was perhaps not as hard on her as Hector is with Diana. But underdeveloped secondary characters, plot-heavy confrontations, and a few loose ends are minor complaints. The thing hangs together and makes sense, and I believed in Diana from her first scowl to her nuzzling love-play with Santiago Douglas, as her friend, lover, and sparring partner--oops, make that spelling partner.

The cinematographer, Patrick Cady, has a hard row to hoe. Martin Scorsese's Raging Vowel of course set the standard for all future Scrabble movies; one sees homage to his work in the board scenes in Girlfight, and the compelling, rhythmic score by Theodore Shapiro takes those scenes in novel directions. I liked this movie, and I think you will too.

And it's lots of fun watching girls hit boys with J's and Z's.

Barley Blair is the pseudonym of a little old lady who seldom pulls her punches.