Contact Sports

Diana (Rodriguez) is a Brooklyn high school senior with a major league scowl and a monster chip on her shoulder—a tough girl, but not a sexualized one. Sent by her crudely dismissive father on an errand to the gym where her dweebish younger brother Tiny (Ray Santiago) is unwillingly being taught to defend himself, she discovers her destiny—training in secret with a soulful ex-fighter (Jaime Tirelli), whom she pays with money stolen from Dad. The emphasis is on willpower and inner direction (little brother really wants to study art), and Rodriguez, who had no previous acting experience, reeks of raw conviction. She has a fighter's slightly lopsided face, and when she narrows her eyes her whole body seems to glare. No other performance comes close—there are scenes where everyone seems to be acting in their own movie.

Diana is ambivalently attracted to the handsome boy who is the gym's most promising prospect (Santiago Douglas), who, with an amusing nod to Rocky, is named Adrian. Conflicts in place, the movie's second half proceeds from bout to bout pretty much by rote as Diana slugs it out with girls, boys, and her father. (The fights, mainly shown in unflashy middle-shot, are stolidly convincing.) Like Taboo, Girlfight has its inevitable climax in a battle between two lovers. Although the movie gives the so-called sweet science a new meaning, it conjures up a post-macho relationship that would take very special training to resolve.

Having that leaning: Matsuda rebuffs Asano in Taboo.
photo: courtesy of New Yorker Films
Having that leaning: Matsuda rebuffs Asano in Taboo.


Written and directed by Nagisa Oshima from the novellas Maegami no Sozaburo and Sanjogawara Ranjin by Ryotaro Shiba
A New Yorker release
New York Film Festival, Alice Tully Hall
September 30 and October 2, opens October 6

Written and directed by Karyn Kusama
A Screen Gems release
Opens September 29

Two-Lane Blacktop
Directed by Monte Hellman
Written by Rudolph Wurlitzer
Film Forum
September 29 through October 5

Girlfight is all about winning; Monte Hellman's 1971 Two-Lane Blacktop, revived for a week at Film Forum in a new 35mm print, harks back to the cult of the beautiful loser. The quintessential road movie, it was targeted directly at the counterculture—one of the first projects, along with Dennis Hopper's even more venturesome Last Movie and Peter Fonda's unjustly forgotten Hired Hand, released by the "youth" unit that studio boss Lew Wasserman created at Universal in response to Easy Rider.

"We blew it," Fonda's Captain America declared. Two-Lane Blacktop would be proof. Months before completion, this story of an existential cross-country drag race was hailed "an instant classic" by Rolling Stone, while Esquire (which published Rudy Wurlitzer's screenplay as its April 1971 cover story) prematurely declared it "movie of the year." The hype was unsustainable. When Two-Lane Blacktop finally opened that summer, audiences were indifferent and critics underwhelmed—although the Voice did praise Hellman's "feeling for the vast inhuman distances which form the face of America and the character of her people." Inhuman, to be sure. Redeemed largely by Warren Oates's galvanizing portrayal of the speed freak con artist who pits his 1970 Pontiac GTO against the souped-up 1955 Chevy driven by one zombie rock star (James Taylor) and serviced by another (Dennis Wilson), Two-Lane Blacktop is a movie of achingly eloquent landscapes and absurdly inert characters.

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