Disney’s stranglehold on inspirational sports dramas endures with Stick It, a manic expos of the rigors of girls’ gymnastics that (to paraphrase one character’s homespun admonition) pops its clutch from the opening scene. Helmed by Jessica Bendinger, whose screenplay for 2000’s Bring It On displayed a similar penchant for uplift amid pubescent bitchiness, Stick It details the moral progress of juvie-hall bait Haley Graham (Hilary Swank--esque pseudoteen Peregrym), a surly gadfly and onetime tumbling champ whose antics land her in a gymnastics academy run by gruff heart-of-gold coach Burt Vickerman (Bridges). Bruisy rivalries and woozy visuals follow, and there’s never any doubt that the film will honor its Afterschool Special roots with a redemptive finale.
For all that, Stick It remains refreshingly respectful of its protagonist’s antiauthoritarianism, and its rebellious denouement, while pure Hollywood twaddle, is undeniably rousing. Where the film really excels, though, is in its astute alignment of gymnastics with female adolescence, right down to the funny clothes and pasted-on perkiness. The academy team’s physically punishing training routines and psychically scarring exhibitions underscore that, from flimsy self-esteem to rigid adult arbiters and the inconvenient limitations of the human body, girls and jocks, and maybe especially girl jocks, are rarely opposition-free. If there have to be coming-of-age movies, we could do worse than one that suggests such obstructions are best overcome collectively. (Opens Fri.)—Mark Holcomb