by Cassam Looch, published on April 7, 2010|
Trying to recapture the magic of Juno has proven to be no easy feat. There have been a plethora of copycat attempts which have gone from the acceptable to the plain annoying.
Whip It!, on the surface, seems like the latest in the production line but it actually stands out for all the right reasons in its own terms.
For years, Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) has been dreaming of escaping her tiny, truck-stop of a town Bodeen, Texas. Unfortunately her devoted, beauty pageant obsessed mother (Marcia Gay Harden) is convinced that Bliss can only succeed in life if she wins the crown at the local Miss Blue Bonnet Pageant, but the awkward outsider knows theres something bigger and better out there.
When Bliss sneaks off to the big city of Austin with her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) she discovers a world unlike anything she could ever imagine: roller derby, with its girl-power-meets-punk-rock spirit and its liberating celebration of wild individuality.
Inspired by the likes of Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Bliss secretly tries out for a spot on the Hurl Scouts, a rag-tag team of scrappy underdogs. Soon shes trading in her gowns and crowns for skirts, skates and scrapes becoming her alter ego, Babe Ruthless.
Leading a precarious double life, Bliss may be a waitress at Bodeens Oink Joint by day, but by night, shes becoming the fastest thing on eight wheels. Now shes doing things she never dreamed of fearlessly facing off with bad-ass rivals like Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) and falling for a boy in a band (Landon Pigg) while trying to be a heroine to her new friends and teammates.
But when her secret gets out, Bliss will face her toughest fight yet: to take control of the future on her own terms!
Helping Bliss along the way is Smashley Simpson, played by Drew Barrymore, who also steps behind the camera on directing duties. Its a superb debut as the film is in equal parts enjoyable and moving.
The pacing is well thought through with the typical triumph over adversity angle in terms of sports being underplayed and the struggles of a likeable teenager taking centre stage.
The central character, played by Page, is in fact far more identifiable than Juno, whose wisecracking quips and smart one-liners always seemed slightly out of place in the world she inhabited.
It was a great film, but character and story always sat uncomfortably in my mind on that occasion. Her journey is one you follow with great interest and the deft touches used by both the onscreen performers and Barrymore elevates this to another level.
The supporting cast is also excellent and overall the tone of the film is pitch-perfect. A surprisingly moving chick-flick which works when it shouldnt and announces Drew Barrymore as a director with considerable talent.
Rating: 4 out of 5