Stick It, the directorial debut of Jessica Bendinger, is an empowering story set in the world of women’s competitive gymnastics. It is the story of Haley Graham (Missy Peregrym), a former nationally-ranked gymnast and now biker-chick-slash-delinquent. Haley is arrested after she and her friends inadvertently cause damage to a residential construction site, and the judge gives her a clear sentence: she must return to competitive gymnastics at the prestigious Vickerman Gymnastics Academy.
At VGA, Haley meets coach Burt Vickerman (Jeff Bridges), and reunites with some of her former competitors. Herein we see the side of women’s gymnastics that we expect to see: individualistic pride and rivalry. She can’t quite expect them to be ecstatic to see her, as we learn quickly that her retirement came about after she walked out on Team USA in the middle of the World Championships.
From there, what could easily be another story of woman-to-woman rivalry instead becomes the story of friendship, teamwork, and revolution. As Haley begins to compete again, she remembers what drove her away from the sport. Judges do not award points for successful completion of intricate skills. Instead, they assign a score based on the difficulty of the routine, and then deduct. As Haley bluntly puts it, “It doesn’t matter how well you do. It’s how well you follow their rules.” This frustration Haley feels is not unfamiliar to gymnasts, female athletes, or to women in general.
Bendinger’s films have a reputation: box office successes with little to none of the acclaim they deserve, largely, I would wager, because they tell the stories of strong women who play by their own rules. Haley continuously fights for herself and for her fellow gymnasts throughout the film, ultimately organizing a coordinated rebellion. At the National competition, she leads the competitors to choose who they believe deserves the gold. The rest of the gymnasts scratch, and they effectively render the judges, and their deductions, useless. Stick It is Bendinger’s message to women everywhere: the time for playing by their rules has come and passed. It is time that we write our own.