I know, the headline puns surrounding this one are limitless. But apparently there is a good movie behind the sexually-explicit title.
Here to tell you more is Castor Troy, our own DC ChopShop correspondent. What does she think of Drew Barrymore’s latest effort? Read on to find out…
Before seeing Whip It this weekend, I made sure to let all my friends know that my only interest in the film stemmed from a mild curiosity. I slunk into the theater after the lights had gone down; I slouched in my seat and pretended to be coolly detached–unlike the gaggle of silly girls in front of me. I was a soulless, pessimistic bastard…but Drew Barrymore (rightly) knocked me flat on my ass.
At the start, Whip It seemed to be nothing more than a tepid chick flick. The dialogue made me roll my eyes, and the acting smacked of Lifetime specials. But at some unknown point, the bass flipped on, Ellen Page put on her Barbie roller skates, and I started to have fun.
Page plays the stereotypical middle-class alternative chick, Bliss, who begrudgingly trots along to beauty pageants with her well-meaning mother (Marcia Gay Harden) while looking for a way out of her small Texas hometown. During a mother-daughter shopping trip, Bliss is struck dumb by three vibrant girls who wheel into the store and smack a few Roller Derby flyers on the counter. Taken in by their casual confidence, Bliss enlists her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) to accompany her on a road trip to nearby Austin to watch the “Hurl Scouts” play.
After the bout, Bliss is encouraged to come to try outs by the perfectly cast cool older sister figure, Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wigg). She digs up her old skates and passes with flying colors under the watchful eye of Razor (Andrew Wilson), the team’s faithful, jean cutoff wearing hippie coach. What follows is Page’s delightful transformation from awkward pagent reject to the bold Babe Ruthless.
Despite some slow moments caused by the hackneyed romance between Page and her stringy indie-rocker boyfriend (Landon Pigg), Whip It is as emotionally engaging as it is fun to watch. It’s a joy to see Page’s character develop a sense of confidence in the presence of her teammates, Smashley Simpson (Barrymore), Eva Destruction (Ari Graynor), Rosa Sparks (Eve) and Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell). The girls, both sexy and real, give us a glimpse into the fascinating culture surrounding the Roller Derby sport. The atmosphere is a weird mix between a field party, a monster truck rally, and a burlesque show. It’s girl power of the absolute best kind– brightly dyed hair flying, pinup girl pouts, fishnets and bruises. It is obvious that these girls, despite their prickly attitudes and amped-up rivalries, are clearly there to cut loose and have one hell of a time.
While the Roller Derby scenes are contagiously carefree, they are offset by some great moments between Bliss and her family. Daniel Stern brings a welcome dose of “easy-going dad reason” to the table in his scenes with Page, while Marcia Gay Harden nails her role as a mother who cares so much she ends up doing just about everything she shouldn’t. Refreshingly, the family members are not absurdly crazy or plagued by tragedy. They’re just trying to get along like everyone else, and I found myself actually giving a shit about how they would come to understand one another. While some may say the family saga is predictable, I would expect nothing less from a realistically-portrayed relationship such as this.
Barrymore’s colorful spirit is shamelessly injected into every minute of this film, and it works completely. Love her or hate her, she has expertly captured the boundless confidence and energy of young girls by casting women who have not quite forgotten their childhood selves. In the rink they are invincible, bringing to life a feeling that most have long since forgotten. Interesting, lively, and (dare I say it?) inspiring, Whip It is made for anyone who isn’t afraid to throw their hands up and have a little fun.