Drew Barrymore couldn’t make a better directorial debut than she does with Whip It. She has been producing films for 15 years now, as well as being a respected actress; so it wasn’t like she was walking into this blindfolded. But now she can add happily, director to her long list of achievements.
The plot itself was perfect for Barrymore to play around with. Written brilliantly by real life roller derby star, Shawna Cross, the story focuses on the life of Bliss Cavander (Juno’s Ellen Page). She is a plain normal teen living the small town of Bodeen, Texas. Her mother uses Bliss and her younger sister to relive her beauty pageant days. While Bliss’s little sister enjoys them, Bliss can’t help but long to do more with her life.
Then she sees the advert for a roller derby event and her life changes forever. By pretending to be a very unrealistic age of 22, Bliss trys out for the local roller derby team. You can guess whether she makes it on the team or not.
Nothing about this movie is actually that new. Yes, the use of roller derby is different but the whole emancipation from your parents, finding yourself, feel-good comedy is exactly the same.
The reason this film works so well is because the cast was perfect. Every single performance was as strong as it needed to be and there was no one in the cast that needed to be replaced. Something that is very rare in movies nowadays.
Ellen Page proves that while she will always be remembered for a debut into Hollywood as Juno, she has a lot more to offer this industry. She is small enough to be the timid teenage daughter but a big enough actress to portray the rebellious young woman who is set free as ‘Babe Ruthless’.
Marcia Gay Harden is sensational as Bliss’ mother, the former beauty queen who is trying to do the best for her daughters the only way she knows how. You are never truly angry with her because you know she means well. While Daniel Stern brings many laughs to tense scenes as Bliss’ father who keeps quiet to make living with his wife as stress free as possible. Comedy also comes from Bliss’ workplace, The Oink Joint, thanks to her best friend Pash and her boss Birdman.
But this film is all about the ‘Hurl Scouts’ and how they help Bliss become her own woman. While Barrymore allows herself to take the screen as Smashley Simpson, it is Kristen Wig’s ‘Maggie Mayhem’ that takes Bliss under her wing and provides the mother role without knocking Bliss’ real mother out of the way.
Juliette Lewis is a star as Iron Maven, the leader of the Hurl Scouts rival team. She is fake and bitchy and sets up the most amazing food fight ever but you find yourself sympathising with her character and fully understanding her motives.
Of course, the film wouldn’t be the same without a little love story and we get that from Oliver – the cool boy in a band that Bliss falls for. The romance is sweet and pure and nothing special. It doesn’t end how you think it would and you love the movie because of it.
It is through one of the love scenes that Barrymore truly impressed me. There have been many romantic scenes in a swimming pool but Drew Barrymore managed to make this one more romantic and somehow so much more original. It was actually beautiful to watch. It would never happen but it was the perfect way to film that scene.
But the best thing had to be the roller derby plays. The coach was so funny and you finally got to see some of his plays, you had to exclaim out loud. Roller derby isn’t a pretty girlie sport and you have to love it. The matches aren’t made to look any prettier than they are in real life. It’s painful and sly but so entertaining.
This is a movie all about female empowerment without having to be all serious and depressing about it. It’s fun and irresistible – just like the director.