Charming coming-of-age / family drama wrapped up in really rather good sports action|
by Neil Davey, published on April 7, 2010
When is a sports movie not a sports movie? There have been plenty over the years, of course. Bull Durham and Field of Dreams were less about baseball and more about sex and life, and you could happily argue that The Hustler isn't about pool at all, but is a bitter look at the American Dream.
Now charging - forcibly - into that field comes Whip It. On the surface, it's all teenage rebellion, empowered women and roller derby action. Scratch beneath the thrills though and you'll find a fun, charming and very moving tale about the relationship between mother and daughter.
The daughter in question is Bliss Cavendar (Page). It's an ironic moniker, as the monotony of her small town Texan life is only punctuated by a dull job in a local bar-b-q restaurant, cynical chats with her cynical friend Pash (Shawkat) and participating in beauty pageants at the behest of her former beauty queen mother Brooke (Harden). And then the Hurl Scouts come into view.
The Hurl Scouts are one of the state's less successful roller derby teams, a full contact sport that's unlike anything you've ever seen. Think indoor cycling with roller skates rather than bikes, and add a hint of American football-style defence and full on, ice hockey-esque rucks. Oh, and another thing. Make the participants all female with fantastically aggressive punsome names like Smashley Simpson and Eva Destruction.
For Bliss, who's desperate for a rebellion, it's a revelation. What's more, she's a natural at the sport and, rechristened Babe Ruthless, becomes the Hurl Scouts secret weapon, much to the annoyance of rival Iron Maven (Lewis). More than that though, Bliss finds her team mates a maternal alternative, particularly Maggie Mayhem (Wiig), although she soon comes to realise - because hey, there has to be a moral, right? - that not everything is what it first appears and, actually, maybe that communication problem at home isn't just down to Brooke's lack of understanding.
If that sounds trite and clichéd, you've got a point but, thanks to Cross's brilliant screenplay (adapted from her own vaguely biographical book), the quality of the acting and, particularly Barrymore's direction, the fact that they're skating, quite literally, over familiar territory is never an issue. Whip It brings a verve and freshness to the tale, provides laughs, thrills and poignant wisdom and even manages to throw in a very satisfying subtle twist at the end. All told, it's a little cracker.
Rating: 4 out of 5