Girl Power Is Alive and Skating in Whip It
- Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
- 2009 10 Oct
DVD Release Date: January 26, 2010
Theatrical Release Date: October 2, 2009
Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material)
Run Time: 111 min.
Director: Drew Barrymore
Actors: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern, Drew Barrymore, Kristin Wiig, Jimmy Fallon, Eve, Juliette Lewis, Landon Pigg, Andrew Wilson, Alia Shawkat, Zoe Bell
I know, I know, it's tempting to simply dismiss Drew Barrymore's directorial debut as Juno on roller skates. After all, Whip It does feature Ellen Page as the slightly offbeat protagonist who doesn't exactly fit in her small hometown of Bodeen, Texas.
But unlike Page's turn as the pregnant teen with a whip-smart quip for, well, everything in Juno, her latest character, Bliss Cavendar, definitely has more in common with the girl next door—even if she does end up moonlighting as Babe Ruthless on the local roller derby circuit.
Much like 2002's Bend It Like Beckham, another feisty story of female empowerment, Bliss also finds an outlet for her life's frustrations in the sports arena when typical "girlie" activities just won't do. Not exactly comfortable in the prim and proper beauty pageants her mom (played to perfection by Marcia Gay Harden) forces her to participate in or serving up barbecue with her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) at the Oink Joint where she's a waitress, Bliss ultimately wants more for her life than what Bodeen has to offer.
But she's really never found an after-school activity she's really connected with. That is, until she bumps into a group of rowdy roller derby girls and wonders if she could be as cool and self-assured as they were on skates.
Encouraged to "be her own hero" by Maggie Mayhem (Kristin Wiig), Bliss considers taking her up on the offer. But there's a simple matter of transportation standing in her way. Lacking a ride to the upcoming festivities in Austin, Bliss decides that roller derby is still worth the trouble and promptly boards the local old folks' bingo bus to see what all the hubbub is about.
Then after seeing what an actual match entails (and just how much fun the girls were having), it's basically love at first sight, and Bliss decides she's in—even if she doesn't meet the minimum age requirement and her last pair of skates had Barbie decals on them.
Of course, there's also the not-so-small issue of getting her mom on board, too. Since the wild and crazy world of roller derby isn't exactly a stage mom-sanctioned activity (and something as simple as dying her hair blue has freaked her out in the past,) Bliss lies and says she's taking an SAT-prep class instead, a teeny little detail you're positive is going to backfire at some point.
And really, there isn't much about Whip It's plot that doesn't follow the typical course. Conventional or not, it's still fun to watch, anyway, thanks to Barrymore's surprisingly skilled direction, a killer soundtrack and a winning cast that definitely seems to enjoy throwing themselves, sometimes literally, into their respective roles.
Now a member of The Hurl Scouts alongside Smashley Simpson (Barrymore), Rosa Sparks (Eve), Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell) and the aforementioned Maggie Mayhem, Bliss, now known as Babe Ruthless, turns out to be a whiz on her Barbie-free skates.
With Bliss on board, The Hurl Scouts now actually have a shot at defeating their arch rivals, fronted by the thirtysomething (!!!) queen bee of the roller rink, Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis, clearly relishing her bad girl role). Coached by Razor (a hilarious Andrew Wilson, who is Owen and Luke's big brother) who never completely has control of the team no matter how hard he tries, they eventually learn how to work together and win, despite being more than a little rough around the edges.
While the sports part of the equation provides little in the way of surprise, where Whip It briefly breaks away from the Bend It Like Beckham pack is the way the script details with teen conflict. When Bliss's parents eventually discover that she hasn't been prepping for the SAT (quelle horror), Bliss doesn't just walk away in a snotty huff once she's confronted. Instead, she respectfully tries to work things out with her parents. Admittedly, this doesn't exactly make her the poster child for well-behaved teenagers considering she lied in the first place, but it was thoroughly more satisfying to see them trying to work out their differences in a relatively mature fashion.
Without giving much more away, the far more sophisticated approach of dealing with common teen issues like the consequences of underage drinking, peer pressure and premarital sex was significantly more thoughtful than many of its predecessors. And for Page, it provides a much-needed opportunity to prove she's capable of far more as an actress. Sure, she may not have Diablo Cody's snappy lines this time around, but she's got tons of heart, which makes Whip It's premise shine, even if doesn't necessarily break any new ground.
- Drugs/Alcohol: Underage drinking, plus instances of social drinking (Bliss' dad is rarely seen without a beer in his hand) plus references to smoking and drug use.
- Language/Profanity: A smattering of profanity and rude dialogue throughout, including a couple of instances where God's name is misused.
- Sex/Nudity: Bliss and her boyfriend Oliver have sex, (they are shown in various degrees of undress in a pool) something Bliss regrets once she suspects he's cheating on her when he's on the road again (he's a traveling musician). In one scene, she mourns that she gave him "everything." There's also some sexually charged dialogue, skimpy outfits worn by a few of the roller derby girls and suggestive humor.
- Violence: Roller derby isn't exactly a ladylike sport like, say, ballet. The girls are routinely throwing punches, tripping each other and basically doing whatever it takes to win.
Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in St. Paul, Minn., she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog.
For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.