Imagine this: you’re in a gymnastics gym in the basement of a high school. It is 7:30 in the morning, and you are usually expected to look like you’re attempting to balance on a beam or learn how to do a front handspring for the sake of your gym credit. But today, something magical happens: your teacher announces that you’re watching a movie, fires up an old TV and leaves you to enjoy the film (with a worksheet, because this is still high school).
These were the circumstances under which I first watched the iconic teen gymnastics movie Stick It (2006). I was a young, impressionable freshman. For the sake of really hammering this image home, here’s a picture for reference:
For the unenlightened, Stick It tells the story of teen tomboy Haley who, after causing property damage while doing BMX bike tricks with her friends, is given the choice between going to military school and something called VGA. She ends up at VGA which – surprise! – stands for Vickerman Gymnastics Academy. Turns out she used to be a gymnastics pro but quit under mysterious circumstances. Now, she needs to train again to get the prize money from a meet to pay her restitution. But maybe, just maybe, after some flips and handsprings, she learns something about herself, and finds some great friends in the girls on the team in the meantime. Aw.
I’m not saying Stick It is the perfect movie. Missy Peregrym, who plays Haley, was in her mid-20s playing a high schooler. She inconsistently does a voiceover throughout the movie. The plot gets a little lost in the middle, and sometimes the dialogue is just plain silly (Haley’s skater nickname is Cracker. Cracker.) . But this is “This Is My Jam,” not “This Is My Absolutely Perfect Movie.” This movie has simply lived rent-free in my mind for the past seven years, for a few solid reasons:
1. Gymnastics, baby!
I follow two sports during the Olympics. In the winter, it’s pairs ice dancing (this is my everything), but in the summers, it’s women’s gymnastics. I remember watching Shawn Johnson and Nastia Liukin during the 2008 Olympics without fully understanding what was going on, then watching obsessively in 2012 and 2016. I am waiting patiently for the next Olympic games. Very patiently.
There’s a lot to love about gymnastics. It’s pretty: Everyone looks put together in their sparkly leotards and there’s a dance and performance vibe that just puts it over the top. At the same time, it is extremely athletic. I just sit there with my eyes wide while these people do fantastic flips and tricks and other wacky things with their bodies. You can root for a team in the all-around but also for your favorite gymnast during the individual competition. And when people fall or mess up, it is so dramatic.
Stick It is a gymnastics movie. The title refers to sticking a landing off of a tumbling pass, a vault trick or a dismount. You land on your feet and don’t step out. There’s plenty of gymnastics to see, like Haley’s floor routine and Wei Wei’s inspired beam performance in the big finale competition at the end of the movie. Body doubles really do the Lord’s work in this movie (except for a very real Nastia Luikin), but it is so fun to watch.
The movie also looks into the institution of gymnastics. Once we do away with the issue of Haley’s restitution and get to the big competition, the enemy becomes the judges themselves. They’re taking points away because they don’t like the girls’ coach, Burt Vickerman (played by Academy Award winner Jeff Bridges before he won said award, which is just wild) and for silly things like bra straps showing! It’s unfair and our heroes will not stand for it, so they stage a little revolution of their own.
The players versus judges dynamic parallels some very real scoring controversies in gymnastics at the time. For example, on the men’s side during the 2004 Olympics in Athens, South Korean gymnast Yang Tae-young was given the wrong starting value for his parallel bar routine. Discrepancies like this led to a complete overhaul for the scoring system. I honestly tried to understand the new system from its Wikipedia page, but it’s very complicated.
It even still feels relevant to current gymnastics controversies. At one point, a judge tells Vickerman that Mina, one of the team members, was given a lower score because they didn’t want to encourage other gymnasts to attempt dangerous skills and risk injury. Just this week, judges gave Simone Biles a lower score on her historic Yurchenko double pike vault, citing the danger and not wanting Biles to “run away with [the] competition.” Some things never change.
2. A rockin’ soundtrack
This was something I’d forgotten about until I watched the movie again for this article, but the soundtrack goes so hard. I had a pretty significant pop-punk phase in middle school. (I still stand by listening to Fall Out Boy when I write essays.) You can imagine how excited I was when “I Slept with Someone in Fall Out Boy and All I Got Was This Stupid Song Written About Me” cranked up during the opening scene.
The use of pop-punk music is meant to exemplify Haley’s not-like-other-girls-ness. The audience doesn’t even know that she’s a girl until she rips off her helmet as she runs away from the cops after landing her trick. But there’s something immensely satisfying about her doing her floor routine to another Fall Out Boy song, Blink-182 backing a moment at the vault and Green Day underscoring a training montage. It highlights how hardcore gymnastics actually is, even when gymnasts have the perfect smile while doing it.
3. Absolutely out-of-left field one liners
Haley’s edginess in the movie often comes through her sassiness, but she’s not the only one who gets a good shot in every now and again. Are they realistic? Hell no. But are they fun? Absolutely. (Plus, the writer and director for Stick It also wrote the iconic gymnastics-adjacent cheerleading movie Bring It On.) Here’s some highlights:
-“It’s the devil’s candy boys, trust me.” *It’s worth noting this one is about gymnastics moms
-“What country are they going to represent? State of Delusion?”
-“And GED? What does drunk driving have to do with school?”
-“It’s not called gym-nice-tics.”
-“Dude, what’s so wrong about being whipped? Why is that a bad thing, ever?” **Let the record show Poot was the original simp.
4. A whole lotta heart
In addition to being pretty funny, Stick It gives me the warm fuzzies. Haley’s got some issues that we don’t really get the details on until about halfway through after a heart-breaking, teary beam routine. Her relationship with Vickerman is really sweet because they are both bad at being nice to each other.
And, of course, the relationships between the girls at VGA are really fun. I love Mina and Wei Wei so, so much, and even mean girl Joanna (played by the same actress who played Sugar Motta on Glee) and arch-nemesis Tricia come around in the end. There’s some great girl power business in the grand finale of the movie – I don’t want to spoil it for you, but it makes my chest feel all warm. Or whatever.
BONUS: Gay awakening nostalgia
This is something that I know is unique to me, but this movie definitely played a role in my gay awakening, which ended in a tearful coming out to my frightened mom later that year. (Sorry, Lisa.)
I was in a not-like-other-girls phase of my own, but the type where instead of identifying with Taylor Swift’s “You Belong With Me,” I openly hated Taylor Swift and everything she stood for. This also meant that I didn’t really get my fill of the Twilight series, where I definitely would have figured out that I thought Alice was hot. Stick It was a substitute I could live with, though, and not just because Missy Peregrym looks suspiciously like Kristen Stewart.
Instead, I found myself drawn to Haley in a way that I would later be able to identify as super gay. She was a butch queen, and there are multiple, very short scenes of her in an ice bath. The ice bath scenes have stuck with me for years. And she has no romances with either of her two guy friends in the movie, which leads me to believe that she is also gay. I will not be convinced of anything else. But this movie will always be a part of that journey for me, and I can laugh now thinking of myself sitting on that mat in class, wondering what it was about Haley that I liked so much.