“Whip It…good”

Drew Barrymore releases her directorial debut this week taking a quirky look inside the world of roller derby and coming of age with a fun little film called, Whip It. We all know that the big screen has loved Drew since she first chased that little extra terrestrial around and we have seen the evidence of her production skills. But directing is always a different animal so I was curious how she would handle that side of movie making. Granted this is not a serious film that needs to capture a range of emotion and character development, but it had to work on several other levels or it would have been just another mindless, sophomoric attempt at rehashed humor.

Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) is a 17 year old trying to fit into the pageant world her mom (Marcia Gay Harden) desperately desires for her. Unfortunately this small town Texas girl can’t seem to get her foot to stay in that glass slipper. When Bliss discovers Roller Derby as a better form of expression she feels she has to sneak around to practice and keep this new found hobby from her family. Along the way she meets a lot of new and interesting derby girls as well as a dreamy musician who would make for the perfect couple skate. Bliss has much to learn though and soon finds that following your dreams the wrong way can lead to heartache, hurt feelings and broken friendships.

This film has several things going for it; one being the ensemble cast of Page, SNL’s Kristen Wiig (Maggie Mayhem), Juliette Lewis (Iron Maven) and the lesser known of the Wilson brothers, Andrew. There is a terrific camaraderie to the cast that needs to be there for a buddy movie about female skate mates. Also, the theme of finding who you are and following your passions is prevalent throughout. Barrymore and team portray these elements without being heavy handed or unrealistic. I am sure that Bliss’ story is not uncommon and if this movie does anything it hopefully will encourage parents and teens to talk out issues they may be having. Drew said of this point, “I definitely hope that parents will support their children’s dreams and yet find the balance of protecting them all at the same time. It’s a tight rope act and it’s not easy. I loved exploring how difficult the nature of that relationship is in the film.”

The humor too is rampant. Whether from Page or the Derby Girls or Jimmy Fallon who has one liner after one liner as the rink announcer the laughs are genuine and unforced. Roller Derby is a fast, colorful world and Whip It is able to pinpoint these funky elements without making fun of it. The team Bliss joins is a last pace, rag tag group who can’t seem to pull anything together. So that adds an entertaining side-story that balances well with the main plotline. The derby scenes are spot on in their portrayal of the sport. You can tell that Drew did her homework in this area and the cast spent time honing their skating skills. This allows you to better enjoy the movie and stay in the moment.

Whip It is rated PG-13 for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material. Though not a teen angst fueled sex romp it is still a 13 and up movie. There are things that are said and done that you probably do not want your 10 year old repeating. That said it is a film that kids and their parents can watch without any awkward moments. I had a blast watching the movie. The unique story line combined with solid acting and a feel good ending makes for a decent time at the theater. I give Whip It 3.75 out of 5 fishnet stockings. Barrymore should be proud of this one for sure. So says Matt Mungle

Matt Mungle (matt@mungleshow.com) (9/23/09)

(3.75 out of 5)

Review copyright 2009 Mungleshow Productions. Used by Permission.

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