Girlfight wouldn't exist if Karyn Kusama hadn't been a smoker. In an attempt to clean up her lifestyle, Kusama paid a trip to a boxing gym and was inspired to write Girlfight, the story of a would-be female boxing champ from the rough end of town. She delivered her $1 million movie at The Sundance Film Festival, picked up two awards, one for the film and one for herself, but more importantly, she convinced Columbia to pick up her film for international distribution.
Important, because this kind of well-written project is rarely so effectively realised. Much credit has to go to Rodriguez, Kusama's surly but charismatic lead. She's a strong character in more than the obvious sense, managing to be a fierce fighter, a young woman of ambition and attractive enough to convincingly land the gym stud.
There's a real sense of place as well. From Diana's school, to a highly populated housing block and surrounding streets, to the male-dominated gym where she trains, her world feels complete. She's not portrayed as a loner or freak, either. She has close friends and a sense of identity. In fact, it's the kind of dream female role - and role model - that is always said to be lacking in modern cinema.
But Kusama's real achievement is that, in centring the film around such a strong woman, she doesn't neuter her male characters. The three men in Diana's life are very different: her father is a coward, whose bullying has destroyed his children's lives; her brother is ambitious in his own way, but his means of escape is through art rather than flexing his muscles, and he's the peacemaker; while Diana's boyfriend knows his worth as a boxer, but strives to judge her as an equal, rather than a showpiece.