Release Date(s)2009 (January 26, 2010)
Studio(s)Fox Searchlight (20th Century Fox)
It would be a stretch to say there is a long, proud tradition of roller derby movies. You’ve got Claudia Jennings in The Unholy Rollers, Raquel Welch in Kansas City Bomber and that’s about it, really. Still, there is a history to live up to and Drew Barrymore’s Whip It succeeds admirably as a fluffy but entertaining girl power flick.
Ellen Page from Juno stars as Bliss Cavendar, a teenager in Bodeen, Texas, rebelling against her mom’s beauty-pageant ideal of young womanhood. She spots a roller derby flier and sneaks off with best friend Alia Shawkat to Austin to check it out.
She’s instantly smitten by the rough ‘n’ tough rollergirls and works up the courage to try out, landing a place on perennial losing team The Hurl Scouts. Using the nom de derby Babe Ruthless, she learns valuable life lessons about being yourself and rallies the team enough that they land in the big championships.
As you may have guessed, there are not a lot of narrative surprises to be found in Whip It. But Shauna Cross’s screenplay deserves credit for tackling its standard coming-of-age themes in a believable, if not completely realistic, manner. Page is sympathetic and identifiable as Bliss and Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern are top-notch as her parents, fleshing out what could have been a pair of extremely shallow characters. The other skaters are very well cast, especially Juliette Lewis as arch-rival Iron Maven and Kristen Wiig as the maternal Maggie Mayhem. Barrymore proves to be a skillful director, whether it’s an intimate dialogue scene or a visceral, adrenaline-fueled skate-off. She also has terrific taste in music, filling the soundtrack with well-chosen tracks from the likes of The Raveonettes, Peaches, The Strokes (big surprise there) and more.
Fox’s Blu-ray looks and sounds absolutely terrific, although the extras are a little on the skimpy side. There are a number of deleted scenes, all of which are pretty good. There are some particularly choice moments with Andrew Wilson as the girls’ frustrated coach that I’m glad were preserved here. There’s also a brief Fox Movie Channel spotlight on screenwriter Shauna Cross and a spot for the soundtrack album. Unfortunately, we don’t get to hear anything from the director herself. A Drew-driven commentary track would have been nice. Inevitably, the package also includes one of those digital copy discs. For all I know, those things are completely blank because I never touch ‘em but if you’re a fan, have at it.
Nobody is going to argue that Whip It was robbed of richly-deserved Oscar nominations but it’s a difficult movie to dislike. The story is familiar but it’s told with such an easy, low-key charm that it sweeps you right along. If Whip It is Drew Barrymore’s idea of what a chick flick should be, I vote we turn the entire genre over to her capable hands.
- Dr. Adam Jahnke