Whip It Reviews
For some inexplicable reason since 2000, the in-the-know indie-punk crowd of the alternative and hippie City of Austin Texas have embraced a renaissance of the fifteen-minutes-of-fame 1970's tie-dye fad, roller derby.
In case you are not familiar with this expression of athleticism, it is extremely basic. Two teams of trashed up, porn style, fishnet-stocking clad tattooed vixens with bad attitudes and a taste for blood skate round and round in circles attempting to score points by completely moralising each other. Simple but deadly.
A film of punchy debuts, current participant of the hazardous-to-your-health, sexually provocative, alterna-girl sport Shauna Cross adapts and brings to battle her own semi-autobiographical novel, with the help of the talented and bubbly first time director 34 year old actor-producer Drew Barrymore.
Barrymore, known widely for her own troubled past; slams out her smartly done directing debut by bring her unique brand of energetic enthusiasm to this irresistibly fun indie ode to sisterhood.
Nerdy, shy and bespectacled Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) along with similarly ill-fitting best friend, Pash (Alia Shawkat) live in desperation of the day they can escape the tedium of their small town existence from Bodeen Texas.
Serving giant burgers aka 'Squealers' at the fading Oint Joint junkfoodery whilst being forcibly made to participate in low-rent regional Miss Blue Bonnet pageants is Bliss's own personal hell.
However, after an unfortunate blue-hair incident, Bliss and her prim, conservative, blinkered Mother (Marica Gay Harden) head to the 'Big-Apple' of Austin for a fractured-family girlie shopping trip.
Bliss's silent screams for salvation are answered when a flyer making a call for new participants (in the ultimate form of defiance) to the glorious all-girl mayhem Roller Derby. Dusting off her old Barbie skates and lying about her age, Bliss sheds the imposed wardrobe rituals to secretly try out for the grunge-infused bump and grind.
Surprisingly good as a speed skater, Bliss makes the tough-cookie slutty team-in-green the Hurl Scouts. Joining the tough girl likes of Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell), Rosa Sparks (Eve) and Smashly Simpson (Drew Barrymore) at the bottom of the derby totem pole. In hopes of raising the stakes, Zen team coach Razor (Andrew Wilson) dons his new found star, Babe Ruthless.
As expected the inevitable parental unit confrontation, best friend friction, inter-team altercations, off rink grudge matches and stereo-typical female protagonist journey into adulthood ensues. However, even with the predictable coming-of-age first love it is a pleasant change to see the whole story doesn't revolve around a boy.
Whip it's playbook is jammed full of life lessons. With more grunt, bigger laughs and better-looking girls than most of its genre the strong line of down home grit and checklist of clichés of rites of passage, ''female empowerment'' through physical aggression and mother/daughter relationships seems much less calculated.
Barrymore's adept talent of generating upbeat and light vibes shines, as it is obvious, even to the viewer that the film's guiding principle is to have FUN! It's like a raunchy slumber party: laughter, tears, drinking, fishnets, food fights, broken bones, cat-fighting femininity and bloody noses are merely some of the sly satisfactions to be found.
It is clearly apparent Barrymore still has a lot to learn about matching shots and editing action sequences, however her ever expanding textbook of talent only accentuates her never wavering career.
Ellen Page brings her naturally vulnerable and likeable screen presence to Bliss, who evidently is a quieter, quirkier less smug version of her Oscar-nominated title character in "Juno". Surprisingly athletic and agile on the track, it is virtually impossible for the apple-cheeked actress to look seriously threatening; however it is easy to believe that Bliss (and Page) is having the time of her life.
Bringing an utterly empowering and authentic look to the elbow blocking, hip checking and fallen body jumping Page with fellow co-stars New Zealand stunt woman Zoe Bell, wild child Juliette Lewis and fierce Kristen Wiig attended roller derby boot camp with actual derby competitors.
The Verdict: This film has so much going for it, with engaging three dimensional characters, relatable issues and fantastic lines including "psychotic ideals of 1950's womanhood" is really is a jem of Y-gen cinema. If you find your interest has been bashed, Canberra has its Debut derby meet on the 24th, I know I'll see you there...
Published : The Queanbeyan Age
Date of Publication : 16/10/2009