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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 Rob Gonsalves

"Welcome to the director's chair, Drew."
5 stars

Some movies share their directors’ personalities. Martin Scorsese’s films are excitable and jittery, like him. Jim Jarmusch is laid-back and inscrutable, and so are his movies. "Whip It," the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore, is friendly and fun-loving and nurturing, as she seems to be.

It was probably inevitable that Barrymore’s first effort should be a you-go-girl tale of empowerment and sisterhood; what’s surprising is how deftly it avoids the clichés. The characters are allowed to be complicated and contradictory; even the villain of the piece is given a few lines that almost made me root for her.

Scripted by Shauna Cross from her amusing novel Derby Girl, which she based on her own experiences in roller derby, Whip It has an unlikely heroine for a female-jock fable — Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), a disgruntled 17-year-old trapped in Bodeen, Texas. Bliss is being groomed for beauty-pageant glory by her mom (Marcia Gay Harden), but would rather shop for boots and hang with best bud Pash (Alia Shawkat). Beyond that, she doesn’t know what she wants, until she finds her way to an Austin roller derby and falls in love with the squalling, jostling chaos of it, and the spectacle of bad-ass women with trashy outfits and makeup, trashy talk, and trashy attitudes. Bliss lies about her age and tries out for the underdog team Hurl Scouts.

Unlike the strapping goddesses-on-wheels in past derby films, like Raquel Welch in the moribund Kansas City Bomber and Claudia Jennings in the anarchic Unholy Rollers, Ellen Page stands five-foot-one and seems built to get bumped around the track. But Bliss, it turns out, has powerful little legs, and once she gets the hang of wearing skates again, she’s incredibly fast. Barrymore (who also appears as the terminally out-of-it skater Smashly Simpson) and the great cinematographer Robert Yeoman shoot the matches as close in as possible, enough to see the pain and pleasure of the sport. Bliss weaves in and out of a thick cluster of opponents, while burlier “jammers” like Smashly or the maternal Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) throw legs and elbows to bounce their foes out of play. It’s terrific fun, and Barrymore never lets us feel protective towards the females getting bashed around — such a feeling would run counter to the mood of rowdy sisterhood.

The generous-hearted Barrymore even gives us a fine bad girl — Iron Maven, severe and mean as a blade, played by Juliette Lewis in what deserves to be a comeback performance (where has she been?). Iron Maven seems out to get Bliss personally, but then we find out why in a few simple sentences that bring her into focus. It’s not about Bliss, it’s about Iron Maven’s own life. Whip It likewise doesn’t caricature Bliss’s mother (who has weird little pockets of rebellion herself) or her father (Daniel Stern in a nicely calibrated amiable-daddy turn). Off the track, Page’s scenes with Alia Shawkat have the bumps and spikiness of real friendship, and a subplot featuring a rock dude Bliss falls for doesn’t distract too much.

Barrymore, 34, already has a lifetime of acting behind her (and she’s having a great year, which began with her brilliant Little Edie in "Grey Gardens"), and as a producer and now director she seems interested in small-scale stories about women that wouldn’t fit comfortably on Lifetime. I don’t see the downside.

link directly to this review at http://www.efilmcritic.com/review.php?movie=18876&reviewer=416
originally posted: 10/05/09 10:44:51
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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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