Based on the novel Derby Girl by Shauna Cross about her professional experience in roller derby. In Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Ellen Page plays quirky 17 year old Bliss Cavender, a small town girl groomed into a caricature of a ’50s housewife by her imperious mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden). Unsure of her place in the world, Bliss and her friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) dream of leaving their small town for bigger things. Bliss, now re-named Babe Ruthless, discovers her natural talent in the rough and tough roller derby circuits in Austin, Texas.
A hybrid between a sports movie, a chick flick and a feel good comedy, Whip It treads delicately on the boundaries of a cliche coming-of-age film; yet somehow Barrymore knows this and embraces it just enough without going too far over-board.
The movie explores different relationships consequently fractured by Babe’s endeavours in the skating rink. Foremost of these associations is the mother-daughter relationship between Bliss and Brooke. A crucial moment in the movie is the confrontation between the two (a cliche; I know) where the acting ability of Page and Harden alight the screen. This mother-daughter theme may also be a reflection on Barrymore’s own estranged relationship with her mother.
Ellen Page is taking one step closer to winning an Oscar and she does herself no harm with another dazzling performance (she did all her own stunts and skating). Marcia Gay Harden, as always, doesn’t disappoint, displaying great chemistry with Page. A strong supporting cast really complements the two actresses. Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven from the rival team plays her character with a grungy look that demands respect; Andrew Wilson, the lesser known older brother of Luke and Owen, plays a hilarious role as the jean shorts wearing coach and Kristen Wiig as Maggie Mayhem, Babe’s mentor, pleasantly surprised me with a role much unlike her small cameos in comedies as the socially inept lout. Barrymore herself plays the role of Smashley Simpson, Babe’s accident prone team-mate. To top it all off, Jimmy Fallon makes a humorous appearance as the try hard womaniser Master of Ceremonies, Johnny ‘Hot Tub’ Rocket.
However, Landon Pigg (Oliver, Babe’s love interest) does not do his character any justice and I couldn’t see the chemistry between the two actors. Babe and Oliver’s ‘young love’ appeared too contrived for my liking and was very hard to believe. This makes it harder to swallow whenever he’s on screen.
Barrymore’s direction is a success! She’s assembled a great all-star cast and has obviously picked a few tricks from her godfather, Steven Spielberg. She directs the film with as much energy and rapture as her own personality. This could be the first of many films to come from Barrymore. Forget the cliches for two hours and sit back and enjoy this joyous and infectious movie about teen defiance, friendship, familial love and ‘being your own hero’.
3 and a half stars