Whip It is about tradition versus choice and plays like a romantic comedy until you figure out that, at heart, it’s a coming-of-age mother-daughter story. Adapted from the 2007 novel Derby Girl by Shauna Cross, Whip It is a Hollywood film veiled as an independent.
Small-town (Bodeen, Texas) teen Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) veers off the Blue Bonnet Southern Belle path to find her roller derby alter ego in neighboring Austin. She reveals her electric blue hair at a pageant, upsetting her mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) who’s got her heart set on her daughter joining the “club” she so badly coveted for herself.
Bliss becomes intrigued by derby. She talks her best friend Pash (awesome awesome Alia Shawkat) into going to a derby event. Once there, Bliss is smitten. Because mama won’t approve, Bliss lies to attend try-outs. She makes the Hurl Scouts team and becomes Babe Ruthless. She starts lying about attending an SAT class but instead attends practice, goes to parties and meets a boy.
Whip It isn’t focused on the girl getting the guy, but instead on the girl discovering her core self and what drives her. The camera angles place you in the middle of the action with singular details, like the glittering skate disco ball, the Oink Joint aprons and the Squealer. The hits, the racing, the uniforms are exciting. You get a crash course in derby rules and even a food fight. The movie with its Portland, Oregon feel has its slow moments but they don’t linger.
Alia Shawkat as Pash, Bliss’s best friend, is excellent. Kristin Wiig as Maggie Mayhem is underused but delivers a few good lines. Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven is clichéd but she’s peculiar enough to be noticed. Jimmy Fallon plays the sleazy announcer with relish. Andrew Wilson, as Razor the Hurl Scouts' coach, is superb (and my favorite Wilson brother). Daniel Stern as Bliss’s dad is bumbling. They connect keeping each other in line while quietly united against mama’s dictatorship. The relationship between Bliss and her mother is believable and difficult. Harden makes the postal carrier uniform fashionable. Bliss’s love interest Oliver (Landon Pigg) is FLAT. He’s adorable, sweet and way too good to be true especially for a lead singer. The music…first-rate sounds weave through the scenes and into that part of you that can’t resist sense impression.
This one is for the ladies. It’s Drew Barrymore’s feature film directorial debut (in 2004, she directed Choose or Lose Presents: The Best Place to Start about American youth and why they tend not to vote) and worth seeing.
Director: Drew Barrymore
Genre: Drama, comedy
Run time: 106 minutes