Let’s hear it for the ladies: Whip It

While unlikely ever to appear on any critic’s best-of lists, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It is fun escapism at its best.

WHIP IT (2009)
Starring Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Juliette Lewis and Drew Barrymore
Directed by Drew Barrymore
Released by Fox Searchlight Pictures
110 minutes

It was interesting to compare the critics’ reactions to Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut when it came out in theaters this past fall.   Pretty much across the board, male critics hated it while female critics either liked it or loved it.

While there may be nothing deep or poetic about Whip It, as a woman it’s great to watch a Hollywood film that caters to the ladies for a change.   And not the woe- is- me finding the right man will make my life complete kind of lady, but rather the sexy, independent, let’s- kick- some ass kind of ladies.

Whip It stars Ellen Page as the unfortunately named Bliss Cavender, a teen from small town Texas trying to find some meaning in her life.   Bliss’s mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) hopes her daughter’s future lies in beauty pageants. From the very first scene however, we see that Bliss has no interest in being judged for her outer beauty.   After a fateful trip to Austen Bliss discovers that where her passion truly lies is in the rough and tumble world of roller derby.

Page has been a great actress ever since her early days as Mr. Lahey’s daughter on Trailer Park Boys.   While she’s strong here too as a mousy girl who finds confidence through sports and the support of other women, let’s hope Page starts to diversify her future film roles before she gets typecast as a smart-alecky indie girl.   At least she didn’t have a weird age inappropriate relationship in this one.

After joining the Austen Roller Derby League, Bliss quickly earns the nickname “Babe Ruthless” amongst her teammates and competitors.   You learn that while the girls in the league all love kicking the crap out of each other on the rink, after the game they get in the hot tub and get drunk together.

Winning is important to them, but what’s more important is the sense of community they’ve created. It may sound cheesy written down, on screen it works.

As with most actor/directors, Barrymore can’t help but give herself an role in her film.   She’s cute here (as always) as Smashley Simpson, a girl who loves the violence of the game more than scoring points. But the stand-out performance of the roller-derby girls is Juliette Lewis.

After running away from Hollywood for awhile to become a rock star, Lewis is back on the screen and hotter then she’s ever been as “Iron Maven”, the bad-ass queen of the roller derby. You wouldn’t want to mess with this broad in a dark alley on a Saturday night.

It’s pretty safe to say that Barrymore will be remembered as a performer rather than an auteur, but as she’s shown with her production company Flower Films, Barrymore knows how to make fun escapism very well.   And that’s pretty kick ass.

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