Reviewed by: Spencer Schumacher
|Featuring:||Drew Barrymore (Smashley Simpson), Ellen Page (Bliss Cavendar), Sarah Habel, Shannon Eagen, Edward Austin Austin, Mary Callaghan Lynch, Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Marcia Gay Harden, Barbara Coven, Eulala Scheel, Nina Kircher, Daniel Stern, Mark Boyd, Carlo Alban, Doug Minckiewicz, Michael Petrillo, Sean O'Reilly, Sam Zikakis, Kent Cummins, Sarah Yaeger, Chloe Truehart, Kyle Kentala, Genevieve Harrison, Landon Pigg, John Eatherly, Jonas Stein, Max Van Peebles, Jimmy Fallon, Kristen Wiig, Zoe Bell, Eve, Andrew Wilson, Juliette Lewis, Rusty Mewha, Will Brick, Madge Levinson, Alexis O'Neill, Eli Bleiler, Kristen Adolfi, Rachel Piplica, Ari Graynor, LaTasha Pippen, Sydney Bennett, Danny Mooney, Brent Kyle, Har Mar Superstar, Claudia Rodgers, Wallace Bridges, Patrick Moug, John Lepard, Austin Bickel|
|Producer:||Vincent Pictures, Babe Ruthless Productions, Barry Mendel Productions, Flower Films, Mandate Pictures, Rye Road Productions, Drew Barrymore, Nicole Brown, Peter Douglas, Joseph Drake, Nancy Juvonen, Nathan Kahane, Kelli Konop, Jason Lust, Karyn McCarthy, Barry Mendel, Chris Miller, Kirsten Smith|
|Distributor:||Fox Searchlight Pictures|
“Be your own hero”
Review updated July 30, 2010
Her IMDb page reads like a Hollywood film directory of who you need to know in the business—the daughter of American actor John Drew Barrymore. Descending from a long line of actors, her grandparents are silver screen legends John Barrymore and Delores Costello. She has worked with a long line of tinseltown’s finest directors including Woody Allen, Joel Schumacher and even George Clooney in his directorial debut. It also doesn’t hurt that she has Stephen Spielberg and Sophia Loren as god-parents.
She made her film debut at the mere age of 5 years old, and then, at barely seven, she auditioned for her godfather on the film “E.T.” (1982). If there was ever an actress cut from Hollywood cloth it’s Drew Barrymore. With so many years of Hollywood experience under her belt as an actress and producer, it hardly seems fit to describe Barrymore and her film “Whip it” as a directorial debut. But whatever trepidation Barrymore may have felt standing behind the camera, she made sure to employ a cast of great actors to put in front of it to get her first feature rolling.
“Whip It” is the story of Bliss Cavender (Ellen Page, “Juno”) a seventeen year old teen trying to find her own identity in the heart of Bodeen, Texas. She is being groomed to follow in her mother’s footsteps and become a hometown pageant queen. However, her inclination towards blue hair streaks and leather boots give us hints that she has dreams beyond Miss Bodeen Teen and spending the rest of her life serving eggs and bacons to the high school jocks at the Oink Joint, a small diner established more on small town charm than culinary expertise, where she waits tables.
One day while out shopping for fashionable shoes with her mom and little sister at an Austin shopping mall, a group of wild tattooed chicks on wheels skate into the shop to drop off flyers for an upcoming roller derby event. Bliss picks up the flyer and then convinces her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat, “Amereeka”) to go with her to check it out. After some encouragement (as well as lying about her age) by members of the roller derby team, affectionately known as “The Hurl Scouts,” she tries out for and makes the team.
Knowing that her less than progressive parents will not approve of her decision to join a girl’s roller derby team, she manipulates her school schedule and tells her parents that she is taking classes to prepare for the SATs, when she is actually at roller derby practice. She continues to go through the motions of the beauty pageants, but her heart is now drawn to a less formal form of competition.
The movie is very ambitious and takes on multiple story elements. It’s a coming-of-age comedy, and, when operating in that realm, it is pretty predictable. The backdrop for the movie is the world of female roller derby, an environment that has never been truly explored in the world of feature films. As such, the film follows a fairly routine course in watching the Hurl Scouts go from the leagues last place losers to contenders for the league’s title.
It is during an after-game victory party that Bliss attends with her teammates Rosa Sparks (Eve, “Barbershop”), Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig, “Knocked Up”) and Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell, “Deathproof”) (Drew also appears in the film as team member “Smashley Simpson”) where we are introduced to the third element of this story and that is Oliver, a rock musician who becomes Bliss’ boyfriend.
We follow Bliss through her quick rise to fame in the roller derby arena and her quick fall into love with Oliver. As she rapidly skates through her suddenly less than mundane, middle of nowhere, Texas life, we know that soon she is heading quickly into a turn that’s gonna send her right over the padded railings and summersault her life head over skates onto the harsh concrete of reality.
With the team finally winning and the relationship between Bliss and Oliver becoming more complicated, the film picks up speed and rises above your typical fare for this type of story. The love story is highly formulaic and is the least effective part of this film. It is Bliss’ struggle between her two families that give this film its strength.
At one point, Maggie Mayhem tells Bliss, “You can’t throw out your old family just because you have a new one,” and in this sentiment we see the core of Bliss’s struggles and find the theme of the film.
You might expect the rough and tough world of women’s roller derby to be a world in which the players pepper their talk with profanity like a culinary artist uses spices on a steak, however the language is pretty typical of a PG-13 rated film. There are about a dozen or so of your run of the mill profane words uttered by Bliss and the roller girls, at least one “f” word, and a several instances of using God’s name in vain (“G-damn,” “Oh my G_d,” “G_d,” and “My G_d”).
There is a party scene where we see various people drinking beer and alcoholic beverages. We also see the negative consequences of drinking, as Pash has a meeting with a toilet bowl after drinking excessively, fortunately for the viewer nothing is actually seen as Bliss holds her head and she bows into the porcelain bowl.
It is clear that Bliss has a better relationship with her dad (Daniel Stern) than her mom. When she attempts to bond with him over a game of football, he offers her a sip of beer, and she drinks it, though it is clear that she is underage.
Sexual talk and references are fairly heavy. Also, Bliss and Oliver apparently consummate their relationship in an Olympic pool where they strip down to their underwear and engage in long underwater groping and kissing. Though both never go beyond their skivvies, there is a lot of images of wet bodies pressing up against each other and the wet clothes leave very little to the imagination. The scene is very suggestive, if not totally beyond suspending one’s disbelief due to the amount of time the two spend underwater with their lips locked.
Should I save sex for marriage? Answer
The violence in the film consists of the roller girls smashing and crashing into one another. It is comparable to what might be seen if this film took place on a grass, football field rather than a concrete roller rink.
The plus side is that Ellen Page’s character sports a Stryper t-shirt (surely you remember the long-haired, make-up wearing Christian-metal band of the 80’s) that her mother gave her. When she is asked about it, she displays some of the morality and Christian principles her parents have instilled in her by saying “they rock for Jesus” in a reverential manner.
Though much of the film is predictable and relies heavily on standard genre formula, the top-notch performances of all the leads and particularly “The Hurl Scouts” bring this film above most others of this type. Ellen Page continues to prove that she is a very talented young actress, who, with the right opportunities and scripts sent her way, can have a movie career as long as her director’s. The film’s secondary characters also come alive off the page. Bliss’ parents are well-written, multi-dimensional characters who have a past and function beyond two middle-aged adults who do nothing but hinder their daughter’s development.
See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.