Whip It *** ½
Directed By: Drew Barrymore.
Written By: Shauna Cross, based on her novel
Starring: Ellen Page (Bliss Cavendar), Marcia Gay Harden (Mrs. Cavendar), Kristen Wiig (Maggie Mayhem), Alia Shawcat (Pash), Landon Pigg (Oliver), Drew Barrymore (Smashle Simpson), Juliette Lewis (Iron Maven), Jimmy Fallon (Hot Tub Johnny Rocket), Daniel Stern (Mr. Cavendar), Andrew Wilson (Razor), Eve (Rosa Sparks), Zoe Bell (Bloody Holly). Carlo Alban (Birdman).
Ellen Page is one of the most charming actresses working today. She became a star, and an Oscar nominee, with her surprise hit Juno two years ago, but for Canadians, we have known for years that she is wildly talented, having seen her in many movies and TV shows. With Whip It, she continues to show why she is one of the most lovable actresses in the world. You cannot help but fall for her in this film.
Many will say that in Whip It she essentially plays a different version of Juno, and while to a certain extent that is true, it is hard to complain when the movie is as entertaining as this one, and while Page does a brilliant job of bringing her to life. She plays Bliss, a teenager in Bodeen, Texas whose mother (Marcia Gay Harden) insists that she take place in the pagent circuit. She hates it, but cannot say no to her mother. One day, when she goes to the big city of Austin, she sees a flyer for female roller derby, and gets inspired. She entices her friend Pash (Alia Shawcat) to come with her to a match, and completely falls in love. With tryouts the following week, Bliss starts training in secret and ends up making the cut - albeit on the last place team in the league, the Hurl Scouts (the dress like Girl Scouts). Her speed quickly makes up for her dimitutive size with her speed, becoming a star, and turning the tide for the Hurl Scouts. She also meets, and falls for, an older guy, Oliver (Landon Pigg), who is a member of a rock band. In teammate Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), she finds the mother she wishes she had. But what will happen when her real mother finds out?
With a clever screenplay by Shauna Cross, based on her novel, and solid direction from first timer Drew Barrymore (who also has a memorable role as Smashlee Simpson, Bliss’ teammate with an attitude problem and a temper), the movie moves along effortlessly from entertaining scene to the next. The characters gradually reveal more layers than we initially thought they had. Bliss, like Juno, is a teen girl trying to find her own way in the world, but Page is a smart enough actress to not make her simply a carbon copy of her star making role. Like Juno however, I expect teen girls are going to find a kindred spirit in her. While we start out thinking that Harden’s mother is just a shallow, ignorant woman, she gradually reveals that she really is not. She really wants what is best for Bliss. Daniel Stern, in perhaps his best screen role ever, plays Bliss’ dad as a man who is trying his best to deal with living with a houseful of women. Alia Shawcat, from the great Arrested Development, is perfect in what could have been another faceless “best friend” role. Wiig, one of the only reasons to watch Saturday Night Live now that Amy Poehler and Casey Wilson are no longer on the show, proves that she is not just as an hilarious woman, but also a talented actress. Andrew Wilson, brother of Luke and Owen, proves that he is as talented as his brothers as the coach who just wants to be listened to. Juliette Lewis starts off as the rival bitch from another team, but once again, gradually her reasoning becomes clear, and she becomes almost sympathetic. The only off note is Oliver, whose storyline is somewhat pointless and adds yet another of those unrealistically wonderful losing your virginity scenes to cinema history. Seriously, do you anyone in real life whose first time was as wonderful as they are always portrayed in the movies?
Whip It certainly does not reinvent the wheel by any means. It basically merges a regular teen comedy with an underdog sports movie. But at least its not another football or basketball movie. Other than Rollerball, I cannot think of another roller derby movie, and certainly not one that is anywhere near this much fun. But what the film does, it does remarkably well. This movie is one of the years most entertaining movies to date. It’s just plain, old fashioned fun.