Director: Drew Barrymore
Cast: Ellen Page,
MPAA Rating: (for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material)
Running Time: 1:51
Release Date: 10/2/09
Review by Mark Dujsik
The heroine of Whip It partakes in three different stories through the course of the movie. They are the underdog sports team, the young love, and the teen rebellion. These are each narratives that demand and intrinsically should have a lot of energy.
As presented here, they are all lifeless.
Each element of Bliss Cavendar's (Ellen Page) adventures in joining a roller derby league, falling in love with an aspiring, young rocker, and trying to prove to her parents that she wants to be a roller girl and not a beauty pageant queen limps along, never finding its own footing. Instead of discovering its own identity, Whip It goes for the easy way out, pandering to the familiar and cliché.
A big part of the issue is in Shauna Cross' script (based on her young adult novel Derby Girl (that title has since been changed to match the movie)), which hits all the basic, customary points for each of her protagonist's challenges and nothing beyond them to enlighten them or make them unique to Bliss. She's also content to shortchange the main points.
For a movie about roller derby, there's hardly any of the sport present. For a movie about young love, it amounts to little more than montages of the couple having fun. For a movie about teen rebellion, it sure does take a long time before Bliss does any open rebelling.
Any problems that arise are solved almost as quickly as they arrive and as easily as if they hadn't occurred in the first place.
Another large part is in the direction. Whip It marks the feature directorial debut of Drew Barrymore (who also plays a
supporting role as one of the derby girls), and all the while she keeps a
subdued tone to the movie. So
subdued, though, that it quickly become monotonous.
makes sense in the early scenes, when Bliss goes along with her mother's (Marcia
Gay Harden) wish that she participate in beauty pageants, works at a local
diner, and otherwise yearns for something more out of life in Bodeen, Texas. Once she discovers the life of roller derby—trying out, impressing the
coach (Andrew Wilson) with her speed, making the team the Hurl Scouts, becoming
Babe Ruthless, and joining the likes of Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Bloody
Holly (Zoe Bell), Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis), Smashley Simpson
(Barrymore)—that tone and monotony continue.
occasional scenes of the sport make no sense, even though the coach gives Bliss
and the audience a quick Derby 101 course. Barrymore films the derby sequences without a sense of the skill the
sport should take (It seems that whoever does the most physical damage to the
other team wins, although I know that's not right) or basic coherency. At one point, the annoying announcer (Jimmy Fallon)
essentially admits the movie is on autopilot during the sequences (If you can't
figure out what's happening, all that matters is the score, and we'll tell you
That plot is
the stuff of which inspirational sports movies are made: a losing team rallying
together with a new star player and new plays slowly progressing up the ladder
until the big game against the undefeated rival team. Cross doesn't have many games in the script, even letting the characters
talk about how one match went after the fact.
Bliss falls for Oliver (Landon Pigg) during a few outings together, leading up
to an awkward love scene in a pool, and the lies to her parents about the derby
catch up with her. All the
potential conflicts arise back-to-back, from Bliss being too young to play to a
fight with her best friend (Alia Shawkat) to her separation from Oliver to a
confrontation with her skating rival Maven in the big game.
predictable, and the only thing barely holding the movie together are some good
performances from Page, Harden, and Wiig, who begins to act as a surrogate
parental figure for Bliss, giving her the right advice. There are a few scenes of the team having fun (including, I kid you not,
a food fight, complete with pies in the face), and outtakes play over the
credits showing the actors having a blast.
That sense of
joy and excitement does not extend beyond the bubble of familiarity and tedium
within Whip It exists. The potential for
something unique is clearly there, considering the quirkiness of the sport, the
cast, and the fresh eyes of a first-time director, but there's nothing to set
the movie apart from its genre trappings.
Copyright © 2009 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.