'Stick It' Is Secretly the Greatest Sports Movie of All Time
And Why Roger Ebert Was Wrong About It
In 2006, the greatest sports movie of all time was released. It was inspirational like Rudy, was funny and feminist like A League of Their Own, had heart like Hoosiers, and was ultimately about dads, like all great movies. It's also a movie Roger Ebert called "the story of a gymnast's comeback attempt as a backdrop for overwrought visual effects, music videos, sitcom dialogue, and general pandering."
That movie is Stick It. Written and directed by Bring It On writer Jessica Bendinger, Stick It is about Haley, a talented but disillusioned gymnast who left the sport in disgrace but is forced to return after doing some very cool property damage. The movie follows and transcends the sports movie model with bad-ass gymnastics, a beautiful balance of laughter and teas, and the best sports movie plot of all time. And Roger Ebert was extremely wrong about it.
What draws people to sports is feats, and sports movies rely on feats—with varying degrees of realism—to create tension, from The Hoosier's "I'll make it" moment to Michael Jordan stretching his arm across an entire basketball court. What sets Stick It apart is enlisting the talents of real, decorated gymnasts to perform the stunts in this movie.
If you don’t want to watch the whole thing, skip to 4:12 and watch B-Girl Shorty perform arguably the coolest stunt of all time.
The routines are so cool because they're what real gymnasts and dancers can do at the top of their game. This isn't an underdog story, it's a celebration of talent. Most great sports movies follow teams and players who are at their lowest, who are trying to win that big game or make their comeback. While Haley is returning to gymnastics, her talent is never in question, it's her maturity. It's an under-realized element of most sports movie, a flaw that turns rooting for the little guy into rooting for people who could in no way realistically win.
Let's be real, the sports in sports movies are boring. The only interesting part of sports is not knowing who's going to win, but in sports movies you know what's going to happen. The good guys are going to win, the underdogs are going to make it to the final match, the person who couldn't accomplish the sports maneuver they were trying to accomplish is going to accomplish that sports maneuver at the most emotionally significant point of the game.
But in Stick It, they make the gymnastics the coolest part, and not just because of the aforementioned talent executing the movies. Cinematographer Daryn Okada, who also worked on Bring It On and Mean Girls, makes some art.
It's fun, it's artsy, and it looks extremely cool. And yeah, it kind of looks like a music video, but why is that a bad thing?
3. Jeff Bridges
Sports movies are almost always an avenue for men to express their repressed emotions without damaging their masculinity, so it's no surprise that so many of the classics are actually about daddy issues (*cough* Field of Dreams).
Jeff Bridges is Stick It's daddy, and he's terrific as the father figure. He's not the perfect image of inspiration or the reluctant and unqualified void filler. The scenes with him as Coach Venkman are some of the funniest and most touching in the movie, and his role highlights that this is a movie about extremely talented but immature teenagers. He's the owner of a disgraced gym that scams the moms of "Olympic hopefuls," but he's also a great coach who recognizes both the unfairness of gymnastics judging and the recklessness of Haley's routines. And even as the biggest name on screen, Bridges holds his own but never pulls focus from the girls Stick It is really about.
2. It's Fun!
For films about an activity called "playing," sports movies take themselves very seriously. Not Stick It. The soundtrack has all the 2006 hits from Missy Elliot to Blink-182. This movie is in the same category as of nostalgia Mean Girls and Bring It On, and a cursory Twitter search reveals it was also responsible for many a queer girls' sexual awakening. It's a fondly remembered film that holds up.
The dialogue is witty and the girls are sarcastic without being written as mean or bitchy. All the gymnasts are fully formed character who are still believable as teens.
This scene in the mall is probably the most teen thing ever captured on film, but this film deserves better than just being remembered as a great chick flick. As a sports movie, it goes above and beyond.
Not only are all the teen girls fully formed characters, the movie humanizes the opposing gymnasts and is ultimately about them supporting each other to improve the sport as a whole by *spoilers* picking the winners themselves rather than being subject to arbitrary judging.
1. The Only Good Plot Any Sports Movie Has Ever Had
This is one of the few sports movies that's actually about the sport it's about. The movie does follow Haley's forced return to gymnastics and finding her chosen family, but it doesn't shy away from how brutal the sport is.
Where a typical sports movie's big match would center on Haley's emotional arc, Stick It's climax is when the gymnasts rebel against being judged by arbitrary rules rather than skill, with points taken off a flawless routine for a bra strap being visible. Led by Haley, the athletes decide to not compete and chose their own winners, showcasing the girls they know should win the judges playing favorites or using the rules to punish unorthodox routines.
It's the perfect subject for a movie about young elite female athletes not being taken seriously and having no control over the forum their skill is being judged in. The movie isn't centered around whether or not Haley will compete or walk away or if her team did the best, but on how the judges will react to the gymnasts' rebellion against them.
Stick It showcases real talent, both in the cast and in the plot, takes its teen lead's pain seriously, is beautiful and endlessly quotable, and centers its plot on a critique of gymnastics judging. It follows and subverts the normal sports movie beats, and will continue to be fondly remembered as the greatest sports movie of all time.