[This is a nice piece of content juxtaposition: on the evening that England play their first game of the 2010 World Cup campaign, I talk about a film about women doing roller derby. Actually, I’m amazed that I’m writing anything today: Super Mario Galaxy 2 arrived and that’s been wonderfully addictive …]
This is exactly the sort of film I would expect Drew Barrymore to make for her directorial debut, and it looks and sounds like exactly as I would imagine: good, quirky, eclectic, original, fun.
Whip It, written by Shauna Cross and based on her own semi-autobiographical novel, is about Bliss (Ellen Page), a teenage misfit in a small town in Texas who discovers an outlet in roller derby in Austin, although she does it secretly without her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) knowing about it, which is difficult when her mother wants her to enter beauty pageants like she did. Bliss is too young, but she still succeeds in getting on to Hurl Scouts, the nearest roller derby team, with the likes of Smashley Simpson (Barrymore), Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) and Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell). Through the roller derby, she finds something that makes figure out where she belongs and helps her to sort out other aspects of her life, including with her mother and father (Daniel Stern).
Even though this is a small film that mixes a teen drama with the sports movie (the roller derby is crunching, bruising and fun stuff, even though I found it completely implausible), there is a lot of energy and famous faces: in addition to those already mentioned, Jimmy Fallon is the roller derby announcer, Juliette Lewis is the arch-rival on the opposing roller derby team, and Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat as Bliss’ best friend; the coach of the Hurl Scouts looks like a famous face, and I kept thinking that it should have been played by either Owen or Luke Wilson, but they went for the other brother Andrew (something I only realised after I watching the credits). Barrymore does a very good job, directing the actors well and providing a funky feel to the whole film, with a wonderfully diverse soundtrack (Young MC’s Know How worked perfectly on top of the really cool end credit sequence) and a fun atmosphere to proceedings.
The film is charming and enjoyable, and the story doesn’t take easy ways out – no character, even the supposed villains, are one-dimensional. The actors do a good job, and it’s Page who comes out best, showing that Juno wasn’t a fluke. It’s a film that is about relationships but is not the soft approach of sappier movies; it’s a little gem, and Barrymore has done herself proud.