Andy Bockelman: Prepare for the full force of female friendship in ‘Whip It’
Rating: 3 out of 4 stars
Running time: 111 minutes
Starring: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden and Drew Barrymore
Craig — Coming around the corner from out of nowhere is the feel-good sports movie “Whip It.” Just be careful that while it charms you, you don’t get socked in the eye.
Teenager Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) is a social misfit in her tiny hometown of Bodeen, Texas. Besides being shoved onto the beauty pageant circuit by her traditional mother (Marcia Gay Harden), she has few friends and an embarrassing job at the local barbecue hut.
Bliss is intrigued when she learns about the underground roller derby scene in Austin, and after watching a session, she knows that she wants to strap on her old Barbie skates and get into the sport. Displaying natural talent and speed on the track in spite of her passive nature, she makes the team.
The worst team in the league, that is.
With quick-reflexed Bliss filling in as a jammer on the Hurl Scouts, they start to win, drawing Bliss the ire of the league’s top skater (Juliette Lewis). But even getting beaten to a pulp during a game is nothing compared to what will happen once her mother finds out.
Petite pixie Page gives a bravura performance, shifting from shy and mousy to strong and confident after just a few matches with the help of her teammates. Filling out the roster are hip-hop star Eve as Rosa Sparks, Aussie stuntwoman ZoÃ» Bell as Bloody Holly and Kristen Wiig as the Scouts’ mother hen team captain, Maggie Mayhem.
With Harden portraying Bliss’ mom as an iron-fisted tyrant with white gloves, and Lewis giving off vibes of pure power as league leader Iron Maven – whose presence is as intimidating as her torturous namesake – it’s a wonder the men have any chance to shine.
But the guys in Bliss’ life do their part, with a warm Daniel Stern as her supportive father and Landon Pigg as the callow indie rocker for whom she falls. Additionally, Luke and Owen’s older brother Andrew Wilson is funny as the team’s coach, who is constantly ignored despite his fine strategic mind.
Of course, it doesn’t help when one of his players gets into a fight every five minutes – Drew Barrymore is oddly endearing as the Hurl Scouts’ punch-happy enforcer, Smashley Simpson, although her role is limited compared to the one she plays behind the camera.
Barrymore’s directorial debut has the distinct feeling of a first movie, and that’s not a bad thing.
Though there are more than a few glaring continuity errors in the editing, Barrymore makes up for this shortcoming with fast paced camera movements that make you feel like you’re really on the roller derby track.
Aside from the technical shortcomings of the film, screenwriter Shauna Cross’ adaptation of her own novel, “Derby Girl,” sets the perfect ambience of small town atmosphere combined with the audacity of big city dreams.
Though the story takes place “today,” the set pieces look like they’ve been lost in a time warp, making the narrative all the more accessible to a wider variety of viewers. After all, haven’t we all felt out of place?
“Whip It” has an unmistakable aura of sweetness hidden behind the bruises Bliss and the rest of the Hurl Scouts collect during game nights. Aside from the “ugly duckling” theme, its mother/daughter tone captures the friction involved in such relationships.
And when you’ve got to fight for acceptance in your own house, you’ve got to do it right, so lace up and throw some elbows.
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