Hugely enjoyable and brilliantly directed, this is easily one of the best films of the year, thanks to a superbly written, cliche-dodging script, a fabulous soundtrack and wonderful performances from a terrific ensemble cast.|
by Matthew Turner, published on April 7, 2010
What's it all about?
Directed by Drew Barrymore (making her debut behind the camera), Whip It is based on the novel by screenwriter Shauna Cross and stars Ellen Page as Texan teenager Bliss Cavendar, whose postal worker-slash-ex-beauty queen mother (Marcia Gay Harden) is obsessed with entering both Bliss and her younger sister Shania (Eulala Scheel) in beauty pageants. However, when Bliss sneaks off to the Austin roller derby with her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat), she finds herself utterly hooked and it isn't long before she's secretly auditioning for a place in the Hurl Scouts, a team of scrappy underdogs led by coach Razor (Andrew Wilson), team captain Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) and fellow team member Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore).
Adopting the name Babe Ruthless, Bliss soon finds her life transformed as she throws herself into the sport, changing the team's fortunes in the bargain. She even starts dating her first boyfriend (Landon Pigg), but the stage is set for confrontation when she realises that the roller derby championship match is on the same day as the Blue Bonnet Pageant her mother has set her heart on.
The script is excellent, setting up the expected cliches (romance, family clashes, team of plucky underdogs) and then subtly tweaking them so that the scenes feel fresh and utterly believable. In particular, it's genuinely refreshing to see a film where the lead female character isn't defined by her romantic relationship, while the family scenes play out in unexpected ways and are extremely moving.
The performances are exceptional. Page is perfectly cast as Bliss and there's wonderful support from Harden, Shawkat, Wiig, Wilson (brother of Owen and Luke), Daniel Stern (as Bliss's beer-swilling dad) and Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven, the aggressive leader of rival team the Holy Rollers.
Barrymore orchestrates several memorable scenes, most notably a food fight and an underwater make-out sequence. In addition, the roller derby scenes are exciting to watch (the rules are clearly explained) and there's a terrific soundtrack to boot.
Put simply, Whip It is practically perfect and will have you grinning from ear to ear. It's also one of the best films of the year. Unmissable.
Rating: 5 out of 5