Whip It! review

Whip It! review

Film reviews: Indie boys & feisty inked rollergirls jam it out in ‘Whip It!’, a teen movie about Roller Derby!. Exhilarating & damn good fun.

Whip It! [DVD] [2009] is released to own on DVD and Blu-ray 16th August 2010

Whip It! (Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut) opens at a regal pageant, where Bliss arrives late on stage with her brunette crowning glory dyed blue. And so begins Whip It!, an eclectic sports-movie-indie-rom-com-coming-of-ager.

The film follows the journey of rebellious Bliss (Ellen Page) as she battles convention to become a rollergirl heroine and figure out what she wants from life along the way.

As a 17-year-old girl living in Bodeen, Texas, Bliss is taunted by her classmates for being ‘alternative’ and lives in discontent with her ex-beauty queen mother (Marcia Gay Harden).

Whilst Bliss buys boots at a vintage shop, a gang of rollergirls glide between the aisles, advertising their next bout. Bliss vows to attend… and immediately gets hooked on the weird and wonderful world of Roller Derby. Digging out her ten year old Barbie skates, Bliss tries out for the team. It’s not long before she’s sneaking out to practice in the company of monkiered riot grrl extraordinaires Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) and Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore).

Training to win the league, Bliss hurtles around the track as the “jammer”, while her teammate “blockers” clash with the opposing team (fear not – all the rollerderby rules are clearly explained in an etch-a-sketch and whiteboard montage). The rollergirl derby scenes are shot with bite: All elbows, angles and rumbling skates.

In between hurtling around the track and preparing for the Blue Bonnet Pageant, Bliss strikes up an affair with Oliver (Landon Pigg), a skinny indie boy with a guitar and a Daniel Johnston shirt. This romance allows for clich├ęd but pleasant shots in a wheat field and an almost saccharine scene in a swimming pool. However, Drew Barrymore and the screenwriters space it out cleverly, avoiding placing to much focus on the relationship. This cute indie romance is not the main feature of the plot but more of a stage for Bliss’s fast-maturing attitude.

Maturity and responsibility are major themes in Whip It!. You’ve got the tug-of-war between mother and daughter; the mentoring influence of Bliss’s teammates; the tension between drifting best friends and the anxiety of young lovers. Unlike the majority of teen-centric films, the dialogue isn’t stilted, the characters are believable and neither the teenagers nor the adults are always right. These ‘flaws’ make the characters endearing, and it’s inevitable that you will find yourself emotionally involved. I defy you not audibly cheer for Bliss.

Page handles this range of emotions well in her portrayal of Bliss, without overplaying any aspect, but falls a little flat in earlier parts of the film. Kristen Wiig (Maggie Mayhem) displays both poignant compassion and impeccable comic timing, delivering the lion’s share of jokes the film.

However, some of the best lines go to the supporting cast – particularly Bliss’s father Earl (Daniel Stern) and her boss ‘Mexican Birdman’ (Carlo Alban). These guys don’t get nearly enough screentime. Most of the humour is quite slapstick, but some shards of wit come from roller coach Razor (Andrew Wilson) and commentator Johnny Rocket (Jimmy Fallon).

The soundtrack, featuring The Ramones, The Go! Team and Dolly Parton, is well selected, and the use of the Jens Lekman song “Your Arms Around Me” is sublime. Eclectic and alluring, it seamlessly complements the straightforward scenery (giant polystyrene pig notwithstanding).

Enjoyable, exhilarating and damn good fun, the smooth narrative and sincerity of the actors create the ultimate feel of Whip It!: Genuine and wistful with a very lightly satirical touch.

Whip It! [DVD] [2009] is released to own on DVD and Blu-ray 16th August 2010

More on rollergirls: