With “Whip It” (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, $29.99), nascent director Drew Barrymore asks the question “What would happen if we followed our passions, instead of our obligations.”
That query is pondered over this 11 minute coming of age film that has Bliss Cavendar, beautifully played by Ellen Page (Juno), yearning for the excitement of roller derby over her mom’s vicarious living through her daughters dreams of winning beauty pagents.
Bliss’ mom, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) is firmly entrenched in middle-class Texas suburbia. The towns name of Bodeen, as well as the BBQ restaurant, the Oink Joint that Bliss and her best friend Pash work at together to highlight the oppression a teen can feel stuck in small town no-where.
Pash studies hard to get accepted at a good college, while Bliss, in her punk t’s (borrowed from mom’s vintage drawer – yes the 70’s are now vintage!), army boots and plaid skirts over dark tights, seeks something else.
Which she finds on a shopping trip to Austin, where she has taken mom to a clothing store/head shop only to have mom freak when she discovers the pretty vases are actually pretty water bongs.
This delightfully played scene is also where Bliss is introduced the Roller Derby when members skate into the shop to drop off flyers promoting their upcoming show.
Things move quickly from there. Bliss gets picked to be a member of the Hurl Scouts, being christened Babe Ruthless by her teammates, though her 17 years of age comes to haunt her.
Through it all she finds acceptance in a band of woman that while they choose to live their lives in a slightly offbeat manner as modern day warriors on the oval battlefield, they are at their heart, each a woman I would enjoy knowing.
And this is where director Barrymore’s future lays brightly before us movie aficionados. She has presented to us a cast of actors whose characters are so divergent of what most of us know, that they could have quickly become cartoon characters.
Instead Barrymore introduces us to talents such as Kristen Wiig (SNL) as Derby Queen Maggie Mayhem and Juliette Lewis as the tough as nails derby girl with the soft heart inside Iron Maven.
Both of these actors, along with the rest of the Derby Cast did an outstanding job of helping us to know their characters and their motivation for partaking in what is truly a very tough and violent sport.
I also enjoyed Jimmy Fallon as Derby MC “Hot Tub” Johnny Rocket – he did an outstanding job making us love, hate and feel very, very sorry for his character.
Casting found numerous interesting actors to fill out this cast, including Andrew Wilson, who plays Hurl Scout coach, Razor; Carlo Alban who fills the screen as the Oink Joint Manager Birdman and then there is Oliver, played by Landon Pigg.
With his decidedly British mod look, he steals Bliss’s heart, though she gets it back in the end.
Page delivers a much more thoughtful and mature performance than we previously saw in Juno, which was a great movie and in which Page delivered an incredible performance.
This was just better.
My standout in this film however was Marcia Gay Harding. She wrests with wanting something more for her girls, something more that she never quite got.
She drives them to pageants, purchasing Bliss an extravagant $800 custom made gown, while working as a mail carrier, smoking when her kids aren’t around, loving her family and wanting more.
But we all know she is not getting out of Bodeen. And it makes us care for her and want more for her.
Whip It is based on the novel Derby Girl written by Shauna Cross.
The Goods: I adore a well casted film. It makes a story believable, enjoyable and worth watching, again and again.
The casting in this film was excellent. Barrymore really allowed the actors to develop their characters and it was not unlike getting yet another gift on Christmas morning as we were introduced to Pash (Alia Shawkat), Bliss’ best friend and the Hurl Scouts team Maggie Mayhem (Wiig), Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell), Rosa Sparks (Eve) and Barrymore as Smashley Simpson or the antagonist of the team, Iron Maven, played over the top by Lewis.
On a personal note, I also really appreciated Marcia Gay Harding’s performance. She brought forth the frustration and love of parenting, while making us cringe as she lived vicariously through her children.
I have really enjoyed this actor stepping out in some well written roles of late, including her turn as the somewhat misguide, and delightfully caustic, Claire Maddox on the outstanding Damages series (2009 season). If you haven’t seen it, run to Best Buy, get the series and enjoy! Glen Close is incredible!
The Bads: I was left wanting more out of the extras. Could have had a bit of Roller Derby history, character development, actor commentary.
I was left just wanting more. Though having the film in your Blu Ray collection is worth the cost without it.
The Mandatory Extras: Again, not much. An interesting interview with novel writer Shauna Cross, who took her turn around the track as a Derby Girl. A pic or two would have been nice!
However don’t miss the excellent sound track, definitely a film highlight and worth purchasing on its own. Its filled with great independent and punk rocker tunes — Sheena is a Punk Rocker – The Ramones, Bang On – the Breeders, Caught up in You – .38 Special and just for fun, Jolene by Dolly Parton.