Review: Whip It

Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut is a fun, humorous, and uplifting tale that appeals to all audiences with its themes about being yourself and not bashing anyone along the way and it is about as fun as a movie can get when it is firing on all cylinders.
Bliss Cavendar is a seventeen year old girl living under the tutelage of her mother in the world of beauty pageants and is quickly growing disinterested with the whole thing. Growing more and more into her own, Bliss is looking for something more up her ally. Not full of her self and never trying to set a trend, she is a quiet and gentle outsider when it comes to school but while visiting Austin she sees a group of roller derby girls promoting an event and quickly takes an interest to the sport. With her best friend Pash, the two head out for the big city to catch the event and Bliss becomes an enthralled by the event that unfolds. Upon discovering there are open tryouts for the league in a few weeks time, Bliss decides to bust out her old skates and start training to hopefully make a team. After a rough try out, her speed finds her a spot on the The Hurl Scouts with teammate like Maggie Mayhem, Smashley Simpson, Rosa Sparks, and Bloody Holly. Having to keep this world secret from her mom she leads a second life as a roller derby girl and even finds romance in a fan of the sport that helps her further discover herself.
The film from here becomes one part sports movie, one part young romance, one part fighting for what you believe in and Barrymore does a very find job of making them all gel together. Now, I will say, the roller derby stuff and anything involved around the teams and events are the best parts of the film by far. Bliss comes out of her shell and the supporting cast is fantastic from top to bottom. The laughs are also the most ferocious here and the action is fun, fast paced, and extremely well done. The film captures the fun and atmosphere of a roller derby so well that you can’t help but want to go out and watch a real event after you walk out of the film. The romance portion of the film is the weakest, but that is more or less because there isn’t quite a lot to it. Girl meets boy, start hanging out, sparks fly, and things get good. This subplot is definitely secondary but it does allow us to see another side of Bliss and delivers one of the cooler scenes in the movie; hint: it involves a pool. The last thread was the most delicate and is handled about as perfectly as you can imagine. Obviously the mother is going to find out and disapprove of things and you have the expected yelling scene of disapproval, but where the film shines is its handling of the aftermath. It could have taken the whole, mom’s evil she will never understand route, but Bliss gets advice from the most unlikely source on how you should view your parents and the results are some touching mother daughter scenes that you don’t really get in films very much nowadays.
But the film does mostly stick with the derbies for the most part and showcasing the eccentric characters in and around the world. The action is a lot of fun and the humor plentiful and you will find yourself biting with anticipation for the next scene. Luckily Barrymore doesn’t ever make you wait long and concocts some really wild and fun characters to surround Bliss in the film.
Ellen Page stars as Bliss and does a fine job at creating a quiet girl that can bust in and out of her shell when necessary and opens her heart when she has to as well. She handles the small scenes and the action scenes extremely well and is a strong lead for the picture that nails the part. Page is the straight man, for the most part, throughout the picture while everyone else gets to be a little crazy and over the top around her. Kristen Wiig is great as usual as Maggie Mayhem but she is the most down to earth of the group off the rink and becomes a good friend to Bliss over the course of the film. Drew Barrymore is also quite silly and good as Smashley Simpson, a dimmer and ADD riddled hard ass that is getting tossed out of games left and right. Juliette Lewis is also nasty and a lot of fun as the film antagonist and resident star of the derby league. Lewis’ character Iron Maven is a bit of a bitch but there is still this over ridding togetherness to the league that creates these weird bonds among all the athletes so you never get a complete villain feel from the character, which is good. Andrew Wilson and Jimmy Fallon provided the most laughs in the film as Coach Razor and the resident rink announcer respectively, and there simply wasn’t enough of these two in the picture. Marcia Gay Harden is great as always as Bliss’ mom and she shows a deft range and puts a nice fresh spin on the overbearing mom by giving her an underlying edge. Daniel Stern is also quite good as Bliss’ father and he slowly gets more and more to do as the film roles on, culminating in some great bits in which he nails. Alia Shawkat also stars as Pash and is a bit over the top but still fits in the spirit of the film though she does miss a couple of times as on her comedy beats, but oh well she still does a nice job.
In the end, Whip It is a fun sports film that both girls and guys will enjoy and has a lot of fresh ideas going for it. Be it the wicked action of the sport, the alternative coming of age tale, or the grand ole time the film is having and the feeling of fun popping out of the screen it is hard not to get swept up in the film. The movie is all at once a bit to conventional with its structure but at the same time will surprise you with fresh bits and pieces along the way, especially with a great portrayal of a mother/daughter relationship. With all this said, Whip It, is one of the most fun films of the year as well as one of the funniest and you should show no hesitation this weekend when heading out to see this one.
Whip It is an A-

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