Whip It: Good
Girl-power fun is right on track. I have three words about Whip It, the roller derby flick that is Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut: SIGN. ME. UP.
Bliss Cavendar (Juno’s Ellen Page [no relation, no matter how much I wish for it]) lives in Bodeen, Texas, a town with nothing to offer but football, the Blue Bonnet ice cream factory (minor quibble: The proper ice cream to be eating in Texas is Blue Bell) and a BBQ restaurant called the Oink Joint. Bliss and her BFF Pash (“Arrested Development’s” Alia Shawkat) work, go to school, and dream of getting out of town. On a shopping trip to Austin with her pageant-obsessed mom (Marcia Gay Harden, giving depth to a character that could easily have become a caricature), Bliss is awed by the tattooed, pierced and dyed stylings of representatives from the local roller derby league.
Bliss lies about her age, goes to tryouts and turns out to be pretty speedy, landing a spot as a “jammer” on the Hurl Scouts, the worst team in the league. The rest of the movie tracks the Scouts’ struggle out of the basement, as well as Bliss’ struggle to find the confidence to ask a guy out, stand up to mom and throw a well-timed elbow into someone else’s face.
Whip It is fun and funny and sweet and exciting. It’s also refreshing: So many movies marketed to women are just awful. Here’s a movie that is about young women, it’s for young women (though not solely; you’d be surprised at some of the ages of the women in the league), and it’s good. It’s fun to watch, the characters are well-rounded, and Barrymore has a nice visual style (though the roller derby bouts could have used a bit more speed and punch.) She sometimes relies on cutsey gimmicks (a common occurrence in actors-turned-directors: they seem to want to show that they can Show Meaning Through Images. Anyone see Garden State?), but gets excellent performances out of actors I often find annoying, most notably Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven and Jimmy Fallon as announcer Johnny Rocket. Kristen Wiig is another standout, but I love her regardless so Barrymore can’t take credit for that.
There is some mild cursing and one f-bomb. Girls both of age and under drink and bongs are prominently displayed in a store (in Austin. I know, you’re shocked.) Bliss appears in her skivvies and there’s implied sex, though we only see some kissing. There is violence because, you know, it’s roller derby. Some of the roller derby costumes are provocative, but it only goes up to fishnets and exposed tummies.
Whip It is, above all, positive. It’s about athletic women of all shapes and sizes who are in control of their lives and are happy. They don’t moon over vampire boyfriends; they don’t think they’re fat; they aren’t waiting for Prince Charming. They bought their own glass slippers, thank you very much, and they come with four wheels.
Previews at a recent showing were Astro Boy, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Vampire’s Assistant and This is It.
Kristen Page-Kirby is the editor of Chesapeake Family magazine. She last reviewed Fame.