On DVD: Whip It


Everything about “Whip It” screams sports movie clichés. Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) lives in small-town Texas and lies to her parents, namely her mother who has stuck her in beauty pageants her whole life, and sneaks off at night to Austin where she’s becoming a roller derby phenom. She even meets a cute boy during her rule-breaking excursions and she may well betray her best friend in the process.

Yet despite the way Shauna Cross has pumped her story full of these overused story component, she does so with the intention of giving them the middle finger by the end of the film. Drew Barrymore also adds a sensitive touch in her directorial debut, along with some gravity to the story. That and it’s about roller derby — not football or basketball — which helps tremendously.

With the exception of a few wisecracks and a quick shot of her chugging a gallon of milk, Page has created a character much different from her title roll in the hit “Juno.” With her looks and style of comedy, it’s easy to get thrown into a Michael Cera-type corner, but she plays Bliss with an appropriate sense of high school naiveté in addition to strong inner- willpower. She skates between cliché: the extremes of the girl who gets picked on who proves everyone wrong and the one-girl wrecking ball that leaves destruction in her path in terms of personal relationships.

At the same time, “Whip It” unravels like a sports movie through and through. It’s warranted considering most people have no idea what roller derby is, but it doesn’t change the dynamic of the those scenes showing action and then cutting to the scoreboard along with some kind of personality (Jimmy Fallon) giving commentary. Fallon, by the way, manages to keep all the laughs for himself. Other than the derby names the women have (Rosa Sparks, Bloody Holly, Smashley Simpson — and Bliss is Babe Ruthless), that’s the extent to which “Whip It” is laugh-out-loud funny. Otherwise it’s just cute laughs because of the relatable nature of the story.

Structurally, “Whip It” imitates countless films before it, but the compensation comes from the story’s ultimate resistance to that structure. Barrymore, though I can’t say all of her angles are well thought-out in certain basic scenes, provides some nice touches. When Bliss and her best friend Pash (“Arrested Development’s” Alia Shawkat) are in a fight, instead of the expected shot of her running out to help her with some trash she’s throwing away at work, Barrymore cuts to her dumping the trash and when it’s in, we see Bliss on the other side. Same message, no cheesy running-to-help shot. It’s minimal, but these things get noticed when similar films usually don’t bother with them.

Cross and Barrymore serve the end without cheese too, but still promote the positive themes and messages than run beneath every true sports and finding-yourself movie. “Whip It” feels stale but tastes impressively more genuine than it is thanks to the talented ladies on all sides of the camera.


Whip It
Directed by Drew Barrymore
Written by Shauna Cross
Starring: Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Kristen Wiig, Marcia Gay Harden


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