by Navtej Johal, published on April 7, 2010|
Some films aim to illuminate, some to educate, and in the case of most Hollywood rom coms, bore you to death. There are those films, however, that have no loftier an ambition than to simply entertain and leave you feeling warm inside: step forward Drew Barrymores directorial debut, Whip It.
Ellen Page (she of Juno fame) plays Bliss Cavendar, a teenage girl disaffected with her life in Bodeen, Texas the very definition of smalltown. Cajoled by her former pageant queen mother (Marcia Gay Harden) to follow in her footsteps and parade herself in a ball gown in front of hawkeyed suburban mothers while waitressing at the local chicken shack, Bliss needs a route out of her humdrum existence.
She discovers it in the form of roller derby a raucous underground sport where women with violent pseudonyms (Maggie Mayhem, Smashley Simpson etc) rollerskate and ruck to the sounds of cheering fans. After being invited to try out for her local team, The Hurl Scouts, Bliss ends up embracing the sport, sharing a romance with a cute singer and finding a place to belong among her teammates. But will Bliss lying about her age to compete come back to haunt her? And what of her mothers aspirations to turn her into a beauty queen?
Ellen Page clearly has a knack for portraying likeable, grounded teenagers and shes pulled it off with aplomb in Whip It. Shy and frustrated at the beginning of the story, Bliss heartwarming, if predictable, transformation into her alter ego Babe Ruthless is deftly and entertainingly displayed by Page. Marcia Gay Harden is dependably wonderful as Bliss mother, while Kristen Wiigs memorable turn as a surrogate older sister to Bliss is often touching and funny.
Barrymores full pallet of skills as a director are perhaps to still to be revealed, but with Whip It she has shown that she can tell an affecting story with plenty of heart and humour. It may not be one that you should get your skates on to see, but Whip It definitely deserves a leisurely stroll to the cinema.