by Amber Wilkinson, published on April 7, 2010|
After what seems like an eternity spent in the company of drippy, poorly drawn, angst-ridden teenage heroines defined by their need to get and keep a guy, Drew Barrymore's directorial debut blasts in some girls who just want to have fun - and you'll be happy to join them.
The plot is, admittedly, not going to win any awards for originality, but formula is hardly uncommon in teenage flicks and Barrymore's fearlessness at the helm and enthusiasm for her central character is incredibly infectious. Bliss is a smalltown girl, doing all the usual smalltown stuff - school by day, BBQ waitress after hours at the Oink Joint and beauty queen pageants on weekends, fuelled by her mother's obssession. That is, until a trip to the nearest middle-sized burg sends her life skating in a different direction - thanks to the fun-loving sassy lassies of local roller derby team The Hurl Scouts.
Out on the rink, tomboys rule and teamwork is everything. Although Bliss, at 17, is technically too young to play on the team, she is happy to lie about her age if it gives her access to this new and exciting family, and it isn't long before she is a lynchpin of the team, earning both the right to stand alongside Smashley Simpson (Barrymore) and Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) and her very own 'rink name' - Babe Ruthless.
There is also the blossoming of first romance with band dude Oliver (Landon Pigg) but here testosterone is left firmly on the sidelines - this is chiefly about sisters doing it for themselves. Barrymore convincingly creates the camaraderie of the Hurl Scouts and sets up a decent rivalry with hard-ass opposition queen bee Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) without letting the characters become cartoonish. Because the rest of the team are all at least 30 years old, Bliss and best pal Pash (Ali Shawkat) genuinely feel as though they are coming of age among older company.
And this isn't just about the rink, Bliss's relationship with Pash is fleshed out, with Shauna Cross - who adapted the screenplay from her own novel - finding more to say about the intricacies and motivations of friendship than merely exposing torn loyalties. Even on the homefront, although Bliss's mum and dad are a little more two-dimensional, Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern ensure they retain a sympathetic 'everyparent' feel.
Some of the blending of these three elements - friendship, home and new adventures - is a little chaotic but, in many ways, this emulates the higgledy-piggedly nature of life between 15 and 20, adding to the film's easy appeal. Its messages, meanwhile, about bonding and finding your future without losing your past, are certainly there, but neither easily come by nor glibly explored. Lessons are learned the tough way and resolutions found but without the tooth-endangering crunch of sugar that Hollywood usually favours. Barrymore? That woman knows how to whip up a storm.
Rating: 4,5 out of 5