Roller derby has never been a hot sport for Hollywood to make movies about. I am not sure why. It is a high speed game with a lot of action, speed, contact and women dressed in sexy clothing. It is the ultimate female empowerment sport. “Whip It” steps into this world and a young woman’s embrace of it.
Ellen Page (“Juno”) plays a teenager named Bliss yearning to get out of the small town of Bodeen. Her life seemingly is going nowhere. She works at the Oink Joint, where you can eat something called the squealer for free if you devour it in three minutes. Her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) has the same dreams as Bliss and always looks to have fun in any situation. Bliss’s fun is somewhat tempered by her mother’s (Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden) obsession with beauty pageants. She desperately wants Bliss to follow in her footsteps and take advantage of her looks before it is too late.
Bliss and Pash see a flyer about roller derby one day and decide to sneak out and go to one of the matches in Austin. Bliss is fascinated by the game, while Pash is more interested in the older boys at the match. Bliss decides to try out for one of the teams. She may seem like an odd fit for this sport because she is so tiny. Bliss more than makes up for it with her speed.
Bliss joins the Hurl Scouts. They are one of the worst teams in the league, being winless at the time of her joining. The other women seem more interested in having fun than actually winning. All of the women in the league have colorful track names like Maggie Mayhem (Kristin Wiig in another steller supporting role), Rosa Sparks (Eve), Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore), Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell) and Eva Destruction (Ari Gaynor). Juliette Lewis has a key role as Iron Maven, the leader of the best team in the league.
Bliss has to sneak off to join the league. She tells her mother that she is taking a SAT class. Bliss also has to lie about her age since you have to be 21 to be in the league. These key points are not that important since they stretch all forms of reality. You basically just have to gloss over these facts to enjoy the film.
“Whip It” is a hit or miss movie for me. It has some charm, but is not as fun as I figured it to be. The story throws in the requisite love interest for Bliss with Oliver (Landon Pigg, an actual musician in his first role), a lead singer of an indie rock band. That never seems convincing. Barrymore is the director of “Whip It”, working off a script by Shauna Cross. Barrymore struggles with the action scenes in “Whip It”. She uses a lot of close ups, so you can’t always figure out the moves they are making. She does compensate by explaining the rules of the game to make it easier to follow.
Barrymore does a lot better with the scenes outside the ring. Bliss is taken under the wing of Maggie. Barrymore wisely takes her time with their scenes. You get to see the tender and tough moments of Maggie and the good advice she shares with Bliss.
Harden is not the typical villainous movie mother. There are shades to her character that come out. She believes she is doing the right thing, but never realizes that this may not be what Bliss wants to do. Daniel Stern also has some touching moments as Bliss’s father. He is more supportive of Bliss and her dreams.
Ellen Page is the main reason to watch “Whip It”. At the age of 22, she already has three standout roles on her resume in “Hard Candy”, “Juno” and now “Whip It”. Page gives Bliss the right amount of vulnerability and toughness. You may not still believe her as a roller derby girl, but she is going to try her hardest to convince you otherwise.
“Whip It” naturally ends with the big game. It doesn’t really matter though about the outcome of it. “Whip It” is more interested in the bonds of friendship and family. Life is much richer if both those bonds are strong. That may be the overlying theme of “Whip It” and it generally succeeds in this area. “Whip It” is one of those movies that people might call cute. I sure wish it was a bit more fun though.
CAST & CREW:
Starring: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Alia Shawkat, Eve, Zoe Bell, Ari Graynor, Eulala Scheel, Andrew Wilson, Carlo Alban, Landon Pigg, Rachel Piplica, Kristen Adolfi, Daniel Stern
Directed By: Drew Barrymore
Written By: Shauna Cross
Produced By: Barry Mendel
For years, Bliss Cavendar (Academy Award® nominee Ellen Page) has been dreaming of escaping her tiny, truck-stop of a town Bodeen, Texas. Unfortunately her devoted, beauty pageant obsessed mother (Academy Award® winner Marcia Gay Harden) is convinced that Bliss can only succeed in life if she wins the crown at the local Miss Blue Bonnet Pageant, but the awkward outsider knows there’s something bigger and better out there. When Bliss sneaks off to the big city of Austin with her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) she discovers a world unlike anything she could ever imagine: roller derby, with its girl-power-meets-punk-rock spirit and its liberating celebration of wild individuality.
Inspired by the likes of Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Bliss secretly tries out for a spot on the Hurl Scouts, a rag-tag team of scrappy underdogs. Soon she’s trading in her gowns and crowns for skirts, skates and scrapes becoming her alter ego, Babe Ruthless. Leading a precarious double life, Bliss may be a waitress at Bodeen’s Oink Joint by day, but by night, she’s becoming the fastest thing on eight wheels. Now she’s doing things she never dreamed of -- fearlessly facing off with bad-ass rivals like Iron Maven (Academy Award® nominee Juliette Lewis) and falling for a boy in a band (singer/songwriter Landon Pigg) -- while trying to be a heroine to her new friends and teammates. But when her secret gets out, Bliss will face her toughest fight yet: to take control of the future . . . on her own terms.
MORE ON THIS RELEASE:
Running Time: 11
M.P.A.A. Rating: PG-13