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Overall Rating
3.84

Awesome: 31.25%
Worth A Look: 28.13%
Average37.5%
Pretty Bad: 0%
Total Crap: 3.13%

4 reviews, 8 user ratings


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Whip It
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by Erik Childress

"Whip It O.K."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 2009 TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Iím wondering how many people have a roller derby phase. Is it something in their lives like other fringe sports that they stick with during special runs on television like WWFís Saturday Night Main Event or the World Series of Poker? I remember mine back on some secondary cable channel and while I left it behind I certainly can understand the appeal of it. Athletic babes, speed and clotheslines. Itís like hockey only watchable on TV. Thereís also the obvious spunky girl power attitude that makes it a perfect stepping stone for Drew Barrymore to make her directorial debut. Possessor to one of the most admirable careers the arts world has ever seen, Barrymore projects some natural instincts behind the camera with the adaptation of Shauna Crossí young adult novel, Derby Girl. Including the freshmanís effort to try and tackle too much at once.

Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) is a 17 year-old from Bodeen, Texas with a kind of shy, rebellious streak in her. Her mom (Marcia Gay Harden) is a former beauty pageant queen and wants to guide her daughter through societalís poise contests. Bliss blows one opportunity when she dyes her hair blue and sheepishly goes on stage to give a standard answer about feminine admiration. While her best friend, Pash (Alia Shawkat) is riding good grades to her ticket out of town, Bliss never vocalizes any definitive ideas about her own future. Thatís when a flyer for a roller derby exhibition in Austin comes her way. Taken with the kind of carefree punk-like attitude of the all-girls sport, Bliss is hesitant but open to the suggestion of tryouts by one of the Hurl Scout stars, Malice In Wonderland (Kristen Wiig).

Strapping on her old Barbie skates, Bliss gets to practicing and soon becomes the leading speedster on the track, a benefit where lapping your opponents score you points. Earning the name Babe Ruthless, Bliss joins fellow teammates Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore), Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell) and Rosa Sparks (Eve) on the Hurl Scouts and almost instantly supplants their satisfaction with being the worst team in the league. Their coach, Razor (Andrew Wilson, brother of Luke & Owen) canít get them to learn plays. But who cares? Itís all about having fun and those frequent bruises arenít going to stop them. What might though is rival Dinah Might (Juliette Lewis) who sees her teamís undefeated dominance overshadowed by this new poster girl. Thereís also the fact that Bliss is lying about her age, lying to her parents and has a new indie rocker boyfriend in Oliver (Landon Pigg) that might strain her relationship with Pash.

Itís not nearly as melodramatic as it sounds but you can begin to see how expansive this simple little sports movie gets as it goes along. These complications are what slowly begins to drag Whip It from being a borderline lovable little coming-of-age story for girls into something that needed probably another 45 minutes just to satisfy its own demands. The greatest fault in the film is how little time it takes to get to know Blissí teammates. The so-called Manson sisters, a clear tip of the hat to Slap Shot (and introduced to similar effect), seem rife with potential but barely make a dent on the track nor exploited for their hearing impairment. Maybe Barrymore was a bit squeamish to play that for laughs or just wanted to give the names in the film more screen time, but even that comes at a cost of Blissí issues away from her team. As the actress, she never hogs the spotlight taking a clear supporting role as the skater frequently the brunt of the most punishment. But such dynamic personalities as Zoe Bell and Ari Graynor (from last yearís Nick and Norahís Infinite Playlist) barely have time to develop their characters aside from their creative names. And with a name like Graynorís Eva Destruction you want to just get out of the way and watch her clear a path.

This isnít to say that Barrymore doesnít get good performances out of her cast. Ellen Page, probably aware of the impression that Juno has left on people, goes 180 with Bliss, a gal who would like to be Juno MacGuff but hasnít quite reached that level of confidence. That said, her transition from shy rebel to a self-assured young adult is a believable one in a manner that this yearís Post Grad or Hannah Montana couldnít translate positively for the patronized tween culture. Juliette Lewis and Kristen Wiig both get nice character moments as aging pros still trying to define their place in the sport and Shawkat shines nicely as the best friend. We want more of them and far less of Landon Pigg's tool-ish presence. He may be around to represent the growing pains young girls must go through on their road to learning the unfair lesson that all men suck, but he's a grating scab in the middle of the film that could have been peeled off in favor of more team bonding. Of all the males in the film, we would much rather see more scenes for Bliss' dad (Daniel Stern) to be proud of his daughter instead of the lame rocker or Barrymore's Fever Pitch co-star, Jimmy Fallon, who will not be joining the Fred Willard/Gary Cole hall-of-fame for comic commentators anytime soon.

Whip It is the kind of film that you can't quite recommend but certainly wouldn't begrudge other people for liking either. It's inoffensive, has a great cast and, for those looking deeper, the blossoming of Barrymore from child actress to moviestar to producer to the director's chair. That's enough of a feel-good story in itself to overlook the detour into boyfriend land and the repetitious wounding and subsequent apologies from Bliss to several characters one after another. Many of these problems exist in Shauna Cross' screenplay and, in the spirit of girl power support, Barrymore may have supported it in full rather than deviate from the moments where the wheels occasionally come off. Who knows that in ten years it won't do for roller derby what Rounders did for Texas Hold 'Em? At least we'll know who to thank for it. Or blame. Nah, probably thank.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=18876&reviewer=198
originally posted: 10/02/09 14:00:00
[printer] printer-friendly format  
OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2009 Toronto International Film Festival For more in the 2009 Toronto International Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

3/16/14 dr.lao A really fun movie 4 stars
2/19/11 art PLEASE!,i TAKE IT BACK!,i saw it a second time,i EAT MY WORD"S!,this is a FABULOUS MOVIE! 5 stars
2/24/10 charity loved it. have always wanted to roller derby, and this just renewed my want 5 stars
1/24/10 art HORRIBLE! 1 stars
11/03/09 KingNeutron Ellen Page was awesome here - food fight was the best since Animal House! 4 stars
10/16/09 John Aster bratty children overbearing hypocritical parents the best scenes are on the track 4 stars
10/07/09 matt ellen page is hot as fuck 5 stars
10/04/09 Sully SVRollerGirls rule the flat track! 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  02-Oct-2009 (PG-13)
  DVD: 26-Jan-2010

UK
  N/A

Australia
  02-Oct-2009
  DVD: 26-Jan-2010




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