Can you fight off depression with a pair of boxing gloves? In “Fight Like a Girl,” Jill Morley Tries

by Jodi Doff

“I always liked hitting things,” director Jill Morley says, in her documentary. Fight Like A Girl . “There was a little boy… I punched him, and smiled when he fell to the ground.” 

Morley’s film explores the motivations of three hard-core female boxers for taking up such a violent and physically challenging sport.  And while their circumstances varied, it turns out that all three were looking for control of their own lives. Maureen Shea entered the gym in an effort to lose weight and please an abusive boyfriend. Kimberly Tomes took a punch to the face while working as a stripper. Susan Merlucci liked the idea of being a “toughie,” and finding a way to release her anger. And then there is Morley herself, who trains and spars alongside her subjects in an effort to beat off her own demons.

Fight Like a Girl is also the story of Morley’s fight with her past, which included the kind of childhood abuse that can create a little girl who smiles when she hurts someone else. On camera, Morley’s father recalls walking in as her mother was beating her and having to physically pull her mother off. Her mother is also interviewed in the film, but the two women appear together only as silhouettes.  During the making of this documentary, Morley’s depression took an even darker turn, and her choice to include her personal battles turn this into more than just a movie about women boxers. It’s about survival, and the damage we do to ourselves when we keep secrets. It is a “you can’t save your face and your ass at the same time” revelation. It’s the discovery that sometimes getting better doesn’t feel better right away, a lesson in fighting through the fear, and the acknowledgement that emotional pain can be far more devastating than the physical.

At the Q & A following the NYC debut screening last Friday, Morley was asked if she’d succeeded in chasing her demons away. “I don’t think they ever go away,” she said. “You just learn how to handle them.”

To find out when Fight Like a Girl will be screening next, visit the film’s website.

photo by Philip Habib

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