Drama/Comedy | rated PG-13 (L) | starring Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis, Daniel Stern, Drew Barrymore, Eve, Zoe Bell, Jimmy Fallon | directed by Drew Barrymore | 1:51 mins
Despite her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) pushing her into the beauty pagent circuit, a young girl, Bliss (Ellen Page), goes a very different direction when she discovers the roller derby circuit. During a successful try-out she learns that she is something of a speed demon on skates and becomes part of the Hurl Scouts, helping in their bid to topple reigning champs The Holy Rollers led by the competative Iron Maiden (Juliette Lewis).
I will give Whip It this, I’ve never seen a sports movie about roller derby. It is a scrappy movie, roughly cobbled together by Drew Barrymore in her directorial debut in which a big, strong cast helps her sell the butt-kicking girl power of it all. Everyone looks like they’re having a blast, about to break character at any moment and it comes through. It’s not a particularly great movie, but it’s a fun one.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’m just so sick and tired of seeing underdog sports movies centered around football that I was excited to see something that was fresh and different. Instead of downs and time outs and passes we get barely padded chicks careening around corners, slamming each other against railings. A much more exciting, and more photgenic sport.
The cast is king here. Ellen Page has been better in pretty much everything she’s been in but she lends her baby doll face to this fairly bland character of teenage “I gotta get out of this town” rebellion. Harden is her usual hard-ass. Lewis lays the arrogant competitor role on thick to the point of near campiness. Barrymore gives that I’m-the-director-I-don’t-need-to-be-here kind of wink-wink-nudge-nudge performance. Barrymore’s buddy Jimmy Fallon makes a few brief and bizarre appearances as the mustached, foam hat-wearing derby announcer “Hot Tub” Johnny Rocket. Andrew Wilson is a spot-on sound alike for Owen. Kristen Wiig is actually pretty good. Whip It marks the first time I’ve seen her and didn’t want to slap her across the face.
The roller derby action is fun to watch though Barrymore isn’t quite a skilled enough filmmaker yet to squeeze excitement out of it. Surrounding the sport is a familiar story. The parent that wants their child go follow in their footsteps, but the child wants to go their own way. The dad who makes their marriage work by just letting his high strung wife be and hiding in his own secret fortress of solitude. The underdog team that rises up the leaderboard. The small town girl that gets a taste of the wild sports life. And a romance for her as a reward for breaking out of her shell. All of it with an all-girl twist, but still bland and predictable.
All of these pieces are thrown out there, but if they click together at all it is only faintly. It’s a fairly fresh take on the sports movie. But no tone or emotion or performance is really committed to fully or dramatically and as a result Whip It ends up being simply light escapist entertainment.