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By Sharon Fulton

Toughened New Yorker, vicious fighter, and brutal leer: Are these the attributes of a typical high school student? Yes. School killings fill headlines, and kids must boil with anger and angst like Diana Guzman. Thank goodness she finds catharsis in boxing.

Karyn Kusama creates a vital reality in girlfight, her first directorial feature. We watch Diana mature from delinquent to champ, and Kusama artfully couples social truth with action scenes to convey Diana's emotional and physical trials. Moreover, her rendition of a boxing match only lacks the smell of sweat.

girlfight careens the audience into New York's projects. This rough neighborhood produces, Diana, the film's heroine. Michelle Rodriguez intensifies girlfight with her stunning portrayal of Diana; she emotes fury and strength, but she still shifts self-consciously when more "girly" girls glide by.

In the first shot, her glare exposes raw aggression. When she punches out the school priss, we start routing for Diana and anticipate cuffs to come. After the fight, Diana visits the principal for the fourth time that semester. She daydreams through detention. When her family sits down to dinner, her father (Paul Calderon) belittles school, and he laughs at her brother's (Ray Santiago) artistic aspirations. Now, we comprehend why Diana glares: she is lashing out at these surroundings.

When Diana visits the gym to retrieve her brother from his boxing lesson, she inspects the boxers with interest. She sees opportunity; she needs a healthy place to lash out. She also meets Hector (Jaime Tivelli), her brother's trainer. Hector notes her right jab, and later he decides to believe in this boxer even if she is a girl. Lessons cost ten dollars, which she cannot afford. She steals from her father and pawns her locket.

We see her resolution, but we also see a world where kids do not have CD money. She braves slums nightly to reach the gym. Rodriguez develops muscles, understanding, and self-possession to show Diana's growth.

One night, a fellow boxer named Adrian (Santiago Douglas) offers her a ride home. She says she does not need protection, but she accepts the ride from this hunk. She's been eyeing this guy. She finds that Adrian lives in the same poor surroundings, and they already have boxing in common. Thus, the love story starts, but Rodriguez & Douglas strike the right notes. The first kiss resonates with awkwardness and uncertainty.

girlfight comes across as a feminist, teenage, and tame Raging Bull. Although Kusama makes an admirable debut, her film making craft does not reach Scorcese's confidence and competence level. The boom mike droops down in two scenes, and the lighting leaves something to be desired. However, the some of filmmaker's dramatic scenes are comparable to Scorcese. As Diana, Rodriguez does show some of the same raw power that DeNiro displayed, but she matures where DeNiro made his tour-de-force fall from grace. Still, she gives us a convincing portrait of a vulnerable girl becoming a strong woman. (By the way, this is Rodriguez's first acting job, and it will not be her last.)

While girlfight succeeds as a boxing movie, its power lies in its coming-of-age story. It presents a convincing slice of New York life. We care about Diana, and we hope boxing helps her reach great heights in life.