Why Drew Barrymores directorial debut deserves a big audience|
by Matthew Rodgers, published on April 8, 2010
When it was released in the US Whip It, Drew Barrymores directorial debut, lost its balance on the first corner to crash from cinemas and the public consciousness, despite some favourable reviews.
It was press screened in the UK well before Christmas, and that gives you some indication as to the problem. How do you market a sports movie that centres on such a microcosmically niche sport, that isnt actually a sports movie, but a terrific dramedy thats rife with resonance, features a wonderfully written script and some really endearing performances? I dont know either, but trust me when I say that this demographic defying little gem is fantastic.
In a backwater Texan town called Boden, we find a young girl ostracised from the mainstream, more interested in grunge rock than the beauty pageants her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) enters her into. Her name is Juno, no sorry, its Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) and she is about to discover a rambunctious, rowdy sport called roller derby that will bruise her physically and emotionally, and give us a few laughs along the way.
Oh how young Gertie has grown up. Barrymore is a successful producer (albeit for the awful Charlies Angels movies), Golden Globe winner, and as well as playing the wonderfully named Smashley Simpson, here she directs with an unflashy assurance that shows trust in a group of performers having an absolute riot.
Page is a wonderful screen presence, completely believable as a grounded teenager struggling to conform to the norm. You couldnt imagine any other actress of her ilk pulling this off without cliché. This is real girl power.
Circling around her is the equally excellent Alia Shawkat (Arrested Development) as her sarcastic best friend, the return of oft-annoying but brilliantly punkish Juliette Lewis as a track rival, and former Home Alone bad guy Daniel Stern as her kind-hearted father. Its a real actors piece, and they all shine in their respective roles.
What makes Whip It stand out from the pack and not simply become another against-the-odds sports movie is that it has a huge beating heart among the kinetic track set-pieces. The emotion comes in the form of two incredibly touching threads that deal with Blisss relationships with her parents; both are brilliantly played out, and at least one should have you shedding a tear.
Its appeal is broad but its comedy isnt. Subtle and infectious, this skates along on the appeal of its small town characters and winning narrative, and truly deserves to find an audience.
Rating: 4 out of 5