Six years ago, Jessica Bendinger wrote a film called Bring It On that brought nuance, sophistication, rich characterization and genuine dialogue to the teen genre and did what perhaps no movie had ever done: respected and valued cheerleaders as people and as athletes. It is, no joke, one of the best movies of the last 10 years.
Now Bendinger makes her directorial debut with a film that could be the spiritual cousin to Bring It On: Stick It also features strong teenage female characters, athletes in an often derided sport (gymnastics) and a loose, irreverent approach. But where Bring It On was subtle and heartfelt, subverting the clichés of teen and sports movies at every turn, Stick It is strained and overdirected, embracing those same clichés.
Missy Peregrym plays rebellious former gymnast Haley Graham, who two years ago walked out on a national championship and cost her team a chance at the gold. Now more interested in BMX bikes and punk rock, Haley ends up in trouble with the law and sentenced via convenient movie justice to a gymnastics camp run by affable, washed-up coach Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges, phoning it in). Of course, she's got a huge chip on her shoulder, but she'll inevitably warm to Vickerman's low-key charms and once again embrace the sport at which she clearly excels.
Bendinger, a former gymnast, has a lot to say about the sport, especially its archaic and arbitrary judging system, the focus of the film's climactic sequence. The problem is that, as a first-time director, she tries way too hard, whether it's to get across her points about gymnastics or depict the pole-vaulting, bar-grabbing action. Her visual style is headache-inducing, full of unnecessary effects shots and quick cuts. She almost never slows down and lets the film breathe, but in the few moments she does, you can see her keen understanding of the way teen girls interact. Those moments are far too infrequent, though, and Stick It ends up as just another disposable teen movie.