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Whip It

Posted by Cantankerous Panda on February 15, 2010

WHIP IT (2009)

Girl power and all that jazz, right? This is a cute film directed by one Ms. Drew Barrymore (whom I adore), and it’s basically about girls’ roller derby in Austin, Texas. Well, there’s a protagonist and a ‘story’, of course, but the reason why you watch this film is for the roller derby. It’s just awesome to see these chicks in their skimpy, funky little get-ups speeding around on their dinky little roller skates and smashing the fuck out of each other. It’s a crazy sport which looks like it could be tons of fun, but it’s not really for the dainty. Which is why it makes sense that the star of the film, Ellen Page of Juno fame (also an X-Men cast member), becomes her team’s jammer, who is supposed to use speed and maneuvering to pass the other girls on the rink and score points. Yes, they need to be able to take and deliver hits, too, but their not expected to be bulky defenders. Think of them as the quarterbacks, in a way, even though quarterbacks don’t really run a lot (I think).

Even though I put story in quotes up there, there is a story. The thing is, it’s a pretty basic one. Innocent girl wants to do something a bit hardcore and “scary” that her parents (or at least one of them) will never understand/approve of, and there’s the whole double-life situation that gets played out. I didn’t mind it, though. It’s a convention that worked for this film, especially in the region that it takes place. It just doesn’t seem as silly to think of a girl in a little ho-hum town 40 minutes outside of Austin to be drawn in by something like this and have to cover it up. Really, the story in the film isn’t what’s going to compel you to see it. It’s a vehicle through which the roller derby aspect is presented, and we’re all really here for the derby. I’m not saying that the story is bad or that you don’t care about the characters, either– it isn’t bad and you DO care for the characters. It’s just pretty well-worn territory all around. I can’t name any films off the topc of my head, but while I was watching this I could swear that I’d seen “this film” before, simply because these tropes were so clear and so often used. To reiterate, I’m not saying that’s a bad thing here. They are used well in this film.

There are a lot of surprise performances in the film. I’d say that the performances would be the second best part of the movie, after the general derby action. Ellen Page (Bliss, AKA Babe Ruthless) is, well…. she’s Ellen Page, and I’m not going to fault her for that (yet). I like her a lot, but I do want to see her do more than just this Juno-esque character. Even though she’s not as punchy in this film, it still feels more like Ellen Page and less like she’s playing a role. She was quite great in Hard Candy, though, so I’m not going to get on her case just yet. I was surprised to see Alia Shawkat (AKA Maebe Fünke from Arrested Development) as Page’s best friend named Pash (I don’t get it), but it did seem naturally that the two would act together someday soon. I like Alia– she has a dry, bitchy tone about her but isn’t obnoxious. She was a good casting choice. In fact, I’d say most of the people in the film were well-cast. I wasn’t in love with the musician boyfriend Oliver, who apparently is also a musician in reality (Landon Pigg, a terrible name), but he was pretty good. I was shocked that Kristen Wiig didn’t piss me off like she normally does; she was surprisingly likable in this film as Maggie Mayhem. Drew Barrymore is hilarious and adorable in a smaller role as Smashley Simpson. Rounding out the rest of the Hurl Scouts derby team is Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell, a well-known stuntwoman who broke out in Tarantino’s Death Proof– she’s the Kiwi chick who rides on the hood of the car), Rosa Sparks (the singer Eve), and the coach Razor (played by Andrew Wilson who looked recognizable–NOT because he’s the older brother of Luke and Owen Wilson– but none of his previous roles stood out, even though I’ve seen a number of his films). I seriously loved Razor every step of the way. Andrew Wilson did a great job playing the passionate, exasperated coach of the worst girls’ roller derby team in the league. Well done, sir.

Then there are the REAL shockers in the cast. Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden (won or her role in Pollock) plays Bliss’ mother who is obsessed with pageantry. Her performance was natural and spot on, as per usual. Daniel Stern plays Bliss’ father. Yes, Daniel fucking Stern from Home Alone. I LOVE Daniel Stern, and he his funny and lovable in this role. Jimmy Fallon plays a character that I don’t really want to say IS Jimmy Fallon, but it’s not outside of his normal range. He plays the derby announcer who is constantly making bad jokes and hitting on the ladies, but he’s not a bad guy.  The other surprising cast member is Juliette Lewis, who plays the “villain” Iron Maven. Maybe I just don’t like Juliette Lewis much these days, but I felt a bit weird about her. I think her bitchiness felt almost forced, so I wasn’t thrilled with her performance. Regardless, this film has a great and appropriate cast.

As for Miss Barrymore’s directing, I think she did a good job. I didn’t find myself questioning shots or angles, nor did I see any ridiculous camera movements. She didn’t draw attention to herself as a director, which I appreciated because this really isn’t the sort of film that needed “edgier directing” (at least, not with this script). I’m a fan of practically anything Drew, but I wasn’t sure about how I’d like her behind the camera. I wasn’t let down by her. Good job, Drew!

Do I recommend this film? Yes, but don’t expect too much from it. It’s an enjoyable watch, and it has its great moments, but it’s a pretty typical film. I mean, if I were to describe it briefly, I’d call it fun and cute. It’s not like a typical chick-flick by any means, but it has that air of girliness to it (with a good dose of grit mixed in). It’s definitely lighter fare, but that doesn’t make it less enjoyable. I would watch it again, and I actually plan on doing so rather soon. In fact, I’m pretty sure I’ll own this film. It’s not one of the best films I’ve seen recently, but it’s certainly one of the most fun and enjoyable.


12 Responses to “Whip It”

  1. That girl that you know said

    What, no comments? Come on people. Is it because it’s a “girl movie”? Look, it’s a sports movie, just with a girl as the main character. It’s not a big deal. And if that is not the reason you aren’t commenting, then, okay, just ignore what I said.

    Anyway, Panda, I pretty much agree with you. I enjoyed the movie, though it did seem pretty similar to other movies in the same vein. I could see watching it again. It’s fun. But I wouldn’t say that Ellen Paige is dainty. Small does not automatically equal dainty.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Yeah some people are just small-minded like that. And nothing you can say can convince me that Ellen Page is anything but dainty :P.

  2. Serryl said

    Yes the general girlishness has prevented me from commenting. Roller Derby as a sport has never appealed to me, but I’m pleased to read that Drew Barrymore is making a smooth transition into directing. Beyond that, I probably won’t ever see this, especially since the action of the sport is supposed to be the most engaging part. Thanks for the review though.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      How could it not appeal to you? It’s hot chicks in cute outfits making lots of full-body-contact with one another. It’s punky and fun. It’s not a “chick flick” in the normal sense. Sigh… some people! But thanks for the comment, anyway :P.

      • Serryl said

        It’s hard to explain. I know that the formula should add up to a perfect form of entertainment for men, but I like my women…not…bruised. Also, I dislike most competitive team sports anyway. Give me a movie about women fencing or women’s Judo and I’m all over it.

        The New Karate Kid ❤

        • Cantankerous Panda said

          But it’s more individual in a lot of ways, and you don’t see much bruising. You mostly see them moving in short clothing and then falling a bit. That’s about it. They are awesome chicks.

  3. Harry Limon said

    Alia Shawkat has a nice interview at the AV Club in which she talks about the experience of making this movie.,38480/

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Thanks for the link! I’m glad that it was as fun as it looked. I’m pretty jealous that she got to work with Drew Barrymore because I adore Drew. But Alia seems like a pretty cool chick in that article. Thanks again!

  4. Delgado said

    I like tough girls. I shall watch this film.

    Also, have you seen Black Dynamite yet? Spoof of blaxploitation films, I thought it was pretty good.

    • Cantankerous Panda said

      Yay! I hope you enjoy it. I just watched it again on the plane ride back from Vegas, and it was still fun to watch and made me smile. I also tried to think of potential roller derby names in case I ever tried to be badass like that.

      Two days after I landed, I fell down an escalator and I am bruised pretty badly on my leg (and bruised all over my lower body since I didn’t tumble but I did slide down two steps at least and I landed on my ass). I don’t know if I could actually handle getting horribly bruised all the time :P. Then again, the girls probably don’t use their teeth, but the escalator certainly did :(.

      I have not seen that movie, nor have I heard of it. Blaxploitation can sometimes be amusing (if it’s not disgustingly offensive), though, so a spoof sounds like it could be enjoyable. I’ll look it up. Thanks!

  5. […] Halloween films, which means I already have a grudge against her) as Lita Ford, and Alia Shawkat (Whip It, Arrested Development) played the bafflingly mute ‘Robin’, who is not an actual member […]

  6. […] only person who knows what’s happening with Mal is Ariadne (Ellen Page of Juno, Hard Candy, Whip It), the young new ‘Architect’ of the shared dream who somehow immediately becomes a […]

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