Reel Shorts | Whip It

2 10 2009

After spending close to 30 years in front of the characters in a bevy of memorable roles, Drew Barrymore climbs into the director’s chair for the first time to tell a warm and tender coming of age story of a young woman who finds her passion doing of all things . . . roller derby in the thouroughly entertaining film, “Whip It.”

While Barrymore splits time both in front of and behind the camera, her story’s protagonist is the brilliant Ellen Page. Excelling in roles that feature her as a slightly geeky and awkwardly unpopular, Page slips seamlessly into the role of Bliss, who by day works in a small time Texas diner while trying to please her overbearing mother (Marcia Gay Harden) who has aspirations of her becoming a beauty pageant contestant.

During a shopping trip with her mother, Bliss witnesses members of a women’s roller derby league advertising an upcoming match and instantly is drawn to their rebellious nature. After she gets a taste of a live roller derby exhibition, Bliss meets her idols and is encouraged “to be her own hero” and is instantly smitten. Changing her work hours and deceiving her parents, soon the under-aged high-schooler is skating professionally with women nearly twice her age. Known for speed and toughness, Bliss is renamed “Babe Ruthless.”

If her new life is not enough to keep her young head spinning, Bliss meets and falls for the lead singer of a local band, Oliver. When she is not working, practicing or deceiving her parents, she is getting in quality time with her new beau in a variety of innocent encounters involving swimming pools and wheat fields. While her motley crew of teammates including Rosa Sparks (Eve), Bloody Holly (“Deathproof’s” Zoё Bell), Smashley Simpson (Barrymore) and her mentor, Maggie Mayhem (SNL’s Kristin Wiig) help her make the transition into the ultra-physical league her biggest rival and hater, Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) is determined to undermine the young newest sensation.

While the story could have evolved into just a sports film and still maintained it’s integrity as just that, Barrymore and Page have other ideas and the story takes a more mature tone that finds Bliss’ older teammates teach her life lessons and teaching her to learn to value her family and more specifically her demanding mother. Page, who scared the bejeezus out of men everywhere in “Hard Candy” and became and indie darling in “Juno,” acquits herself very well again in this film and is starting to establish a credible resume displaying her range and wonderful acting ability. The cast is also solid including Jimmy Fallon as the league’s off-beat announcer who keeps the action moving as well as providing comedy relief, Daniel Stern as Bliss’ understanding and proud father and the fantastic Harden, whose conflict with her daughter is at the heart of the film.

Based on Shauna Cross’ novel, “Derby Girl,” “Whip It” is not just a roller-derby tale but a tender, winning coming-of-age tale that is inspirational not only for young girls but film audiences everywhere. Barrymore deserves credit not only for “Whip It” . . . but because she has shown that with the help of Page they could and did whip it good!

Grade: B+




One response

13 10 2009

I really enjoyed Whip It – not only was it a lot of fun, but it had some heart, too. I think this is one of those movies that will slowly develop a cult following, which in the end isn’t such a bad thing.

The presence of Ellen Page + the soundtrack + the silly premise got me interested in seeing the movie, and it exceeded expectations. Juliette Lewis was amazing, and surprisingly, Kristen Wiig was also excellent, straying from her annoying nervous character that she always seems to do.

Still, the highlight of the film for me is the music, especially since Drew Barrymore used “Unattainable” by Little Joy – that was my favorite song of 2008, and it was great to hear it (along with a host of other great songs) get more exposure.

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