Director: Drew Barrymore
Writers: Shauna Cross (screenplay and novel)
Principal cast: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kirsten Wing, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Andrew Wilson and Drew Barrymore.
Release date: 16th August 2010 – DVD and Blu-ray.
Frustrated by the confines of small town Texas life and high school pageantries, quirky teen Bliss (Page) joins a makeshift team of women skaters and their frustrated coach (Wilson), emerging as a star player in the sometimes dangerous world of all girl roller derby.
As Belle starts to find an outlet for her creativities, problems arise with conflicting family interests back home in small town Bodeen, Texas.
Ok, why should anyone who is not an indie teen or girl rocker wish to watch a film about women racing and fighting on roller skates?
Well apart from the obvious, Barrymore’s directorial debut attempts to draw in the success of recent indie comedies and blend it with the traditional Hollywood coming of age dramas (complemented by a fine supporting cast and misfit characters).
Whip It manages to balance the two thanks mainly in part to some very subtle humour, both off kilter and serious performances, the old underdog routine and Barrymore seemingly having fun in her first film behind the camera.
Page is perfectly pitched to portray the central character, transforming from indie geek to skating babe and in turn attempting to balance the confines of village life for the call of the derby circuit. Those expecting the mouthy swagger of Juno (2007) will find a more subtle performance.
This is not unfamiliar territory with the film leaning on indie and teen movies from yesteryear, and although the career versus dreams and teen versus parent scenario is handled well with sufficient drama and comedy, it’s the business of skating that makes Whip It a quirky and pleasing comedy (the roller circuit is a place of Joan Jet twenty/thirty something wannabes with black mascara, crash helmets, bubblegum and trashy stage names ruling the day).
The race scenes are a mixture between Seabiscuit underdog moments and pure Dodgeball with a hint of Rollerball with legs. We have the traditional team of misfit underdogs (in this instance the Scouts) and their coach (a wonderfully subtle comedy performance by Wilson as the only man in the outfit preoccupied by game tactics).
Barrymore adds a dead pan comic touch as team ringer Smashley Simpson (a disaster prone skater adding up a list of injuries ranging from broken noses to occasional neck braces) whilst Kirsten Wigg provides the mentor role as Maggie Mayhem.
Throw in Juliet Lewis as scene stealing arch rival Iron Maven and the circuit scenes are pure joy to watch.
Barrymore cleverly also adds an almost all American slacker soundtrack (surely Cannonball by The Breeders was always going to be a cert for this film) and allows the movie to move along at a gentle pace allowing the skating moments to standout.
Finally, full marks to Lionsgate for the quality of the print with a Blu-ray displaying rich colours, plenty of detail and a very clean picture.
At times a standard coming of age story but at other times a clever quirky indie comedy, Whip It surprises by being not just a teenage soap opera but a likeable underdog flick.
Although not setting the world alight, the movie does mark a promising start for Barrymore the movie director.