Drew Barrymore might have found a new career as a director of offbeat films. (Better that than starring in more forgettable romcoms or Charlie’s Angels 3).
Although Whip It is rough, which you would expect from a first-time director, Barrymore provides an engaging and unexpectedly good sports movie.
Ellen Page stars as Bliss Cavendar, a 17 year-old small town girl who becomes instantly fascinated by the world of roller derby. Stuck in the beauty contest world of her controlling mother, Bliss finds solace, and the opportunity to find herself, in something new.
Lying about her age, Bliss is selected to be part of the team of misfits known as the Hurl Scouts who are just as happy to come in second place, perhaps even more so, than actually win a contest.
Barrymore and Kristen Wiig star as two of the Rollers. Although Barrymore gives herself the comedy relief part, Maggie (Wiig) proves to have unexpected depth. A loving yet honest conversation between Bliss and Maggie provides one of the film’s best moments. The rest of the team includes Eve, Zoe Bell, and Ari Graynor, and is led by the dry wit of Andrew Wilson.
Aside from the Rollers themselves the film is also peppered with strong supporting performances by Jimmy Fallon as the roller derby announcer Hot Tub Johnny, Alia Shawkat as Bliss’ best friend Pash, Daniel Stern as Bliss’ father, and Juliette Lewis as the leader of the dreaded Holler Rollers, Iron Maven.
Whip It delivers that quirky indie feel, but doesn’t settle on it alone. Nor does it rely on the simple sports cliches (though many are present). And although the film does include a love interest (Landon Pigg) for Bliss I wouldn’t classify it as a romantic comedy either.
At it’s heart Whip It is a tale about a girl’s relationship to her mother and a coming of age story about someone finding something that they not only enjoy but find they are talented at doing. At times the film does telegraph some scenes and minor plot points, but still takes care in delivering a strong story. Its successes fall outnumber its failings.
In a week that includes Michael Moore’s new documentary, a big zombie flick, and a more mainstream comedy, it’s quite possible Whip It could get lost in the shuffle. And that would be a shame. You may have to search this one out as it is not getting as wide a release as its main competition, but it’s definitely worth it.