Movie Reviews

Whip It

Reviewed by: Edward Douglas
Rating: 7.5 out of 10
Movie Details: View here

Cast:
Ellen Page as Bliss Cavendar
Alia Shawkat as Pash
Marcia Gay Harden as Brooke Cavendar
Daniel Stern as Earl Cavender
Kristen Wiig as Maggie Mayhem
Zoe Bell as Bloody Holly
Eve as Rosa Sparks
Drew Barrymore as Smashley Simpson
Andrew Wilson as Razor
Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven
Eulala Scheel as Shania Cavendar
Mark Boyd as Ronny
Carlo Alban as Birdman
Doug Minckiewicz as Colby
Michael Petrillo as Poindexter
Landon Pigg as Oliver
Jimmy Fallon as 'Hot Tub' Johnny Rocket
Kristen Wiig as Maggie Mayhem
Zoe Bell as Bloody Holly
Eve as Rosa Sparks
Drew Barrymore as Smashley Simpson
Andrew Wilson as Razor
Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven
Rusty Mewha as Holy Rollers Coach
Will Brick as Referee
Madge Levinson as Helen
Alexis O'Neill as Pocket Rocket
Eli Bleiler as Jaba the Slut
Ari Graynor as Eva Destruction
LaTasha Pippen as Juana Beat'n
Sydney Bennett as Kami Kaze
Austin Bickel as Riley

Directed by Drew Barrymore

Summary:
A surprisingly well-balanced directing debut from Drew Barrymore featuring another strong performance by Ellen Page which brings far more depth to what might have been a fairly throwaway teen coming-of-age story otherwise.

Story:
Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) is living a humdrum life in the small town of Bodeen, Texas, before discovering hidden talents in herself after she attends a roller derby event in Austin with her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) an decides to try out for the team, knowing that her parents (Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern) would probably disapprove.

Analysis:
One might immediately discount an attempt by a well-known actress to direct a commercial movie as an attempt to prove something, and fighting against that sort of sexist attitude is part of what makes "Whip It" feel like such an empowering movie for Drew Barrymore, who adequately proves herself to be a solid commercial director with this directorial debut.

Working from a strong script by Shauna Cross that's more than just the normal sports movie transplanted into the world of roller derby, we first meet Ellen Page's Bliss as she's taking part in a beauty pageant at the urge of her overbearing ultra-Christian mother, played by Marcia Gay Harden. On a dare by her best friend Pash, Bliss dyes her hair blue, getting herself disqualified, starting her on a road to further rebellion. It's clearly evident Bliss doesn't live up to her namesake, unhappy with the smalltown lifestyle of working at the local diner and feeling like an outcast both at home and school. A trip down to Austin introduces Bliss to the world of roller derby and on a whim, she returns for try-outs, proving to be a natural. She begins to bond with the older women on her new team as she starts to experience life, all the time keeping it a secret from her mother and father (Daniel Stern).

While the movie does seem to portray itself as a typical come-from-behind sports movie, there are a lot more layers to it, mainly as a coming-of-age story for this girl trying to find herself. As much as you might have a hard time believing that this meek little smalltown girl could possibly be transformed into a tough roller derby chick, Page really pulls it off. (You'll have a harder time believing that a 17-year-old could join the league without anyone carding her to check her age.)

Overall, Barrymore does a decent job maintaining a consistent tone and a steady pace, throwing in just enough roller derby matches to keep things exciting and fun thanks to Jimmy Fallon's constant play-by-play announcing. She's able to get really solid performances out of most of the rest of the cast, though her clear weakness is making the comedy bits funny, which is why it's good she has a ringer in the form of Kristen Wiig, who is just a natural at making every line of dialogue funnier, but who is also given a few dramatic character-building moments to show she has range. Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern bring a lot to the movie as Bliss' oblivious parents, each of them having some strong scenes with Page. It's just as much fun watching "Arrested Development" star Alia Shawkat hold her own against Page as Bliss' best friend, as well as the casting of former child actress Juliette Lewis as Bliss' main rink rival. Unfortunately, it's Acting Drew who holds Director Drew back and keeps her from being taken too seriously since she's playing such a ditzy character. There are more than a few moments where things start getting cheesy as Barrymore tries hard to keep things light, and Bliss' relationship with a rocker, played by actual musician Landon Pigg, is really the low point of the film, mainly due to the flat and uninspired performance by the miscast Pigg. (He's easily the worst casting in a movie that includes the likes of Eve and stuntwoman Zoe Bell.)

The movie does suffer slightly from the same problem faced by most sports movies in that our heroes' team eventually has to face their arch rivals and either win or lose. By then, the movie has already clearly established itself to be about Bliss and her relationships, so you're not likely to be disappointed whichever way the ubiquitous championship match turns out since we've already experienced such a strong and uplifting character arc.

The Bottom Line:
While younger women will probably get more out of this than guys of any age, there's no denying that Drew Barrymore has successfully directed a generally fun roller derby movie that never loses sight that the main character's journey should always be kept front and center.

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