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» The Oxford Times Review - Whip It

by Damon Smith, published on Wednesday, April 7, 2010 - 2:23pm

Youth springs eternal for Ellen Page. Oscar nominated for her role as a pregnant 16-year-old in the raucous comedy Juno, the 23-year-old Canadian actress has forged a career playing dysfunctional and pithy teenagers.

There are more growing pains in Whip It!, the auspicious directorial debut of Drew Barrymore based on the novel Derby Girl by Shauna Cross.

Set in the cutthroat world of women’s roller derby, this unabashedly entertaining tale of female empowerment puts a traditional coming-of-age story on four wheels and celebrates the sisterly solidarity within a low-ranked team as its feisty members body-check their way up the league.

Novelist Cross lovingly adapts her book for the screen and she retains all of the humour and the pathos, keeping the tone relatively light to hold the interest of teenage audiences who will appreciate the heroine’s struggle for independence and the hip soundtrack laden with Kaiser Chiefs, MGMT, The Breeders, Peaches and The Raveonettes.

Hormonally charged teenager, Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), lives in sleepy Bodeen, Texas, where she is at the mercy of her beauty-pageant obsessed mom, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden). Ungainly and unfeminine, Bliss loves indie music and she stands little chance of winning the Miss Blue Bonnet Pageant, which Brooke is convinced will be her daughter’s ticket to fame and fortune.“You need to stop shoving your psychotic idea of 50s womanhood down my throat,” threatens the teenager.

While out shopping with Brooke and her younger sister Shania (Eulala Scheel), Bliss sees a flyer for roller derby trials and she secretly attends the tryout in Austin for league underdogs, the Hurl Scouts.

Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) and Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore) take Bliss under their wing and with their encouragement, the plucky teen discovers her calling as her alter ego, Babe Ruthless.

The introduction of the ballsy new member to the Hurl Scouts catalyses a dramatic change in fortunes, setting up the inevitable championship showdown with Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) and her brutal posse. Meanwhile, Bliss drifts apart from pal Pash (Alia Shawkat) and begins a romance with musician Oliver (Landon Pigg).

Whip It! follows in the skating tracks of countless other portraits of teen angst but director Barrymore invests her first feature with infectious energy and a tasteful, underwater sex scene. Page imbues Bliss with spunk and vulnerability and the scenes with Harden's pushy mother runs the gamut of laughter and tears.

There are lovely, tender scenes too between Bliss and her father Earl (Daniel Stern), who confides, “I like smart girls. That’s why I married your mother . . . and knocked her up.”

The cast appear to do many of their own stunts on the roller derby rink. Every time they get knocked down, we cheer them to get back up again.

Source: www.oxfordtimes.co.uk

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