Directed by Sean Riley
Starring Jessica Harthcock, Noah Cook
Indie Film Review by Seamus Conlon
The eponymous ‘Belle’ of Sean Riley’s indie flick Fighting Belle is a temperamental southern belle named Delilah (Jessica Harthcock) who is not by nature the fighting type but is compelled by grievance and revenge to become a formidable boxer. The film opens with the disastrous non-wedding between Delilah and Kelvin (Ryan Czerwonko), where the groom abruptly announces to his fiancée at the altar that he’s decided he has too much of his wanton youth ahead of him to resign to marriage just yet. In the slapstick fallout Delilah attempts and fails to punch Kelvin and ends up knocking her head on a banister, falling unconscious and embarrassed in front of the congregation.
The belle subsequently decides on revenge, one that will amend both the humiliation of being left at the altar and the humiliation of being unable to respond with a punch: to train as a boxer and defeat Kelvin in combat. To reach that goal she takes the step of taking boxing lessons with her male antithesis, the soft-spoken and humble Tandy (Noah Cook). Somewhere along the line boxing lessons become not just a means to the end of revenge on Kelvin, but also and end in themselves as romance begins to spark between the belle and the boxer. Already you can see how this film is going to conclude.
Fighting Belle isn’t just predictable it abounds so excessively with lazy cliché that it almost takes on an avant-garde so-bad-it’s-good quality. The film clearly conceives of itself as something in the vein of a Bridesmaids-style chick flick comedy, but completely lacks the polish and production values to do so. Some shots have a visual depth and sheen to them that wouldn’t be out of place in a mainstream, but elsewhere the framing of the images is so poor as to almost verge on self-parody. The sound design remains unrefined and clumsy throughout. But the messiness of Fighting Belle is not without its charms.
The disparity between the film’s acting performances is a marvel. In one corner we have the hyper-kitsch, hammed-up central performance by Jessica Harthcock, too inexhaustibly a drama queen for any real human being to resemble her. In the other corner we have Noah Cook’s performance as her eventual love interest. Cook’s performance is understated, naturalistic, recognizable as a representation of human nature. How his performance would seem in another context I am unsure, but next to the endearingly grotesque overacting of Harthcock’s Delilah, Cook’s Tandy is a triumph of mimesis. The consequent effect is of watching people form different realities interacting with eachother, and this bizarre dualism correlates to the film’s schizoid filmmaking technique, alternating between competent cinematography and amateur home movie.
By objective aesthetic standards Fighting Belle is a woeful film that surprises the viewer not by innovation but by a lack of imagination. But whatever the failures of its extremely poor execution, the film still has rich entertainment value for reasons that were almost certainly incidental to the filmmakers’ intentions. If you enjoy Fighting Belle it will be for its clumsiness and not its success.