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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
[AllPosters.com] Buy posters from this movie
by Peter Sobczynski

"Austin City Bombshells"
4 stars

If you had to pick a milieu in which to set a sweet-natured coming-of-age story about a young woman finding her place in the world, my guess is that most of you probably wouldn’t choose to set it in the rough-and-tumble world of roller derby. And yet, that is exactly what Drew Barrymore has chosen to do with her directorial debut, “Whip It” and amazingly, she manages to pull it off despite the odds. It may not be the most spellbindingly profound original work that you will encounter at the multiplex this season but you would be hard-pressed to find one more utterly endearing than this one--a go-girl epic that is so shamelessly likable that even the most hard and cynical of hearts are likely to find themselves succumbing to its unexpected and endearing charms.

The film stars Ellen Page as Bliss Cavendar, a soft-spoken Texas teen who unwillingly finds herself stuck on the small-town beauty pageant circuit at the insistence of her ambitious mother (Marcia Gay Harden) and the bemusement of her laid-back father (Daniel Stern). While she does rebel against this in her own quiet way, such as showing up for one competition with her hair accidentally dyed blue (though it should be said that she totally rocks the look), her problem is that she doesn’t really have anything to replace it with and has consigned herself to a life of quiet desperation, hairspray and BBQ stains from the witnessing job that will keep her around for the rest of her days. One day, she sees a flier for a roller derby match in Austin, convinces best pal Pash (Alia Shawkat) to drive her to the match and completely flips for the brash babes bashing each other up on the track with gleeful abandon. After the match, she professes her admiration to Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), a player for the Hurl Scouts and is invited to try out for the team. Although Bliss hasn’t skated since she was a kid (“The last time I wore skates, they had Barbie on them”), the idea sparks something in her and when she tries out, she discovers that while she may not possess the cutthroat instinct to nail her opponents on the track, her size and speed makes her perfect for scoring points and she winds up making the team alongside the likes of Smashley Simpson (Barrymore), Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell) and Rosa Sparks (Eve) under the questionable tutelage of Coach Razor (Andrew Wilson).

Although the Hurl Scouts are not a team that is known for their prowess on the rink--they cheer over coming in second in a contest featuring only one other team--but once Bliss makes her debut (under the moniker of Babe Ruthless), the team begins to pull itself together to the point where it actually seems to be a contender for the championship. More importantly, the strength and determination that Bliss easily displays in matches begins to seep over into her other life to the point where she finds the nerve to strike up a tentative romance with hunky musician Oliver (Landon Pigg). Of course, once everything begins to go swimmingly for Bliss, that is exactly the moment when disaster begins to hit from all sides. Pash begins to feel ignored by her best friend and when Bliss isn’t there to help her out of a bad situation, she turns her back on her for good. Bliss’ biggest rival, Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis), discovers that she is technically ineligible because of her age and threatens to expose her unless she voluntarily leaves Hurl Scouts before the final championship match between their teams. Oh yeah, that championship match also happens to be the very same evening as an important beauty pageant that Bliss promised her mother that she would participate--before she can even begin to figure out how to get around that one, her parents find out about her skating career and are upset with her for going behind their backs in order to participate. If that weren’t enough, Oliver goes out on tour and when Bliss goes online to look at some photos of him on the road, she sees him in one with a girl wearing what appears to be the T-shirt that she gave him one romantic evening and is naturally heartbroken.

Okay, so “Whip It” doesn’t really break new ground from a narrative standpoint, especially since the story requires all of these conflicts to be resolved more or less at the same time. And yet, despite all of that, I still found myself so engaged with the proceedings that I actually found myself caring about how it all turned out. One of the reasons for this is because the screenplay by Shauna Cross (based on her novel, “Derby Girl”) is more interested in developing the characters into individual personalities than in the plot mechanics--the effect is less like your typical sports film in which everything hangs on who wins the big game and more along the lines of the original “Bad News Bears” or “Slap Shot,” films which used sports as a background for what turned out to be quirky character studies in which the result of the big game was utterly irrelevant. Another interesting thing is that while all the conflicts mentioned eventually resolve themselves in ways designed for maximum audience enjoyment, the story takes some intriguing twists and turns to get to those points that allow them to avoid feeling like clichés. Take the scene in which Iron Maven explains to Bliss why she wants her out of the way so much--an ordinary film might have just let her be a two-dimensional villain to be summarily dispatched with a crushing blow on the track. Instead, she gets to deliver a thoughtful and realistic monologue explaining why and while nobody in the audience will be hoping that she succeeds in her plan, they will at least understand her motivations. This is just smart screenwriting and it goes a long way to ensuring that “Whip It” is more than just this generation’s “Kansas City Bomber.”

The other secret ingredient to the success of the film is Barrymore’s direction. Under normal circumstances, when an actor slips into the director’s chair, the results tend to be dire--while they may prove interesting from a performance standpoint (the area in which they are presumably most comfortable), they tend to be severely lacking in the other artistic areas. However, unlike a lot of those wannabes, Barrymore has spent more than 30 years on movie sets of all sizes and must have been paying careful attention to the behind-the-scenes stuff because this maiden effort works on all levels. Even though the film is essentially a star vehicle for Ellen Page, who proves once and for all with her delightful and non-snarky work here that her performance in “Juno” was no mere fluke, Barrymore ensures that all the performers get their individual moments to shine as well in the same way that a good party host pays attention to all her guests and gives each and makes each and every one the center of attention from time to time. (The only one she can’t do much with is Jimmy Fallon as the wacky track announcer but, to be fair, that task would seem to be beyond even her considerable powers.) She also does an excellent job of presenting Bliss’ worlds--both her ordinary small-town existence and the tawdry utopia of the roller derby world--in realistic and affectionate terms without ever reducing any of it to the level of cartoonish cliché. If Barrymore has one flaw as a filmmaker at this point, it is that her willingness to get all of this stuff in means that the film as a whole winds up running a little longer than necessary but my guess is that most viewers will be having too good of a time to notice.

“Whip It” is an absolute delight from start to finish and while it may not go down as one of the best films of the year, it is hard at this time to think of one more endearing. It is equal parts fast, funny, crude and sweet, it is the kind of date movie that will appeal to both genders and it offers the traditionally underserved young female audience some positive reinforcement about self-image and finding their place in the world without getting too preachy about. Hell, thanks to the film, I even finally learned the actual rules to roller derby, something that I have idly wondered about for years. As for Drew Barrymore, while I hope and pray that she doesn’t give up her day job anytime soon, her work on “Whip It” suggests that she could do so and make a go of it behind the cameras if she wanted.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=18876&reviewer=389
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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