Directed by Drew Barrymore
Written by Shauna Cross (also novel)
Starring Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig
Whip It is not for me. And I mean that literally: it wasn’t made for me. The producers of the film probably couldn’t care less what a 20-something male thinks of their attempt to market roller derby as a form of tween-age rebellion somewhere between black nail polish and a giving a blowjob to the Raconteurs’ bassist. They’re interested in an age group outgrowing their Jordin Sparks CDs, not film critics pissed off Suicidegirls.com is blocked by the office firewall and looking to ogle some tattoos.
But you know what? I liked it anyway. Despite its clumsiness, its cheesiness, and a plot so far beyond formulaic it makes algebra look like chaos theory.
Whip It stars Juno’s Ellen Page as Bliss Cavender, a precocious small town teenager whose life has become a rut of beauty pageants and waitressing. Her mother is domineering, her father passive, and her town is one of those places where high school football playbooks carry more weight than the Bible. While visiting Austin, she discovers roller derby, which is like NASCAR for women who work in head shops and dress like Tank Girl. Things develop predictably from there.
I’m not sure what, exactly, I responded to in this film, because first-time director Drew Barrymore takes no risks in her by-the-numbers adaptation of an already straightforward script by Shauna Cross. Perhaps it’s the performance of Alia Shakwak (Arrested Development) as Bliss’ best friend ; particularly lively compared with Page’s bored interpretation of her familiar typcasting. Or maybe it’s Kristen Wiig as roller derby captain Maggie Mayhem, who proves she’s capable of dramatic moments when not reusing parts from her SNL skits. Or maybe it’s roller derby’s undeniable energy that helps overcome the weaker spots in Whip It, such as Juliette Lewis’ impossibly over the top performance as antagonist Iron Maiven. In any case, while Whip It is far from a good film, it’s a fairly enjoyable one. At least if you can’t log onto Suicide Girls.
Here’s the trailer:
– Al Kratina