I remember when I was a young kid in the early sixties we didn’t have gaming systems so Saturday afternoons were typically spent outside playing stick ball or pretending to be our favorite super hero. On those days when the weather was not conducive to such activities we would gather in front of the black and white television set and look to see which of the ten or so channels had something interesting to watch. Occasionally we would happen upon a strange sort of sporting event that was fast pace with a lot of action; roller derby. Back the both genders participated but it seemed even to our young eyes that the ladies were especially vicious. Since we were well before the onset of puberty the skating and fights that we found exciting although that would be subject to a very natural change in a few years. The popularity of the sport has waxed and waned over the intervening years but thanks to niche cable programming and the reality TV the ladies of roller derby are staging a comeback on one of results of this is a little film with big entertainment value; ‘Whip It’. Traditionally, roller derby has the reputation of being a blue collar activity or for some less politically correct types; ‘low-class’. When watching as a kid none of this mattered; such labels were part of the adult world and all we cared about was the action. It really wasn’t even that important that we fully understood the rules although the simple regulations did seep into our appreciation as well as permitting us to cheer on favorites and discuss rudimentary strategy. There is something about this film that brought me right back to those carefree days before adult responsibilities became the paramount aspect of life. The movie has a sense of exuberance blended with a strong emotional story that makes this odd little a joy to watch quickly elevating to my personal favorites list.
This is very much a feminine empowerment movie created by a dedicated group of strong young women with talent and vision. The source material was the novel ‘Derby Girl’ by Shauna Cross who also transformed the book into a tightly crafted screenplay. We’ve all seen sports oriented flicks were the testosterone rums rampart but this is a delightful female twist that preserves the fundamental elements of the genre but with s definite woman’s touch and deeper emotional reach to the audience. The basic appeal of the traditional sports movie is present here and serves well as the firm foundation of this film. It is about the individual rising to overcome personal adversity through the involvement in her chosen sport. One of the main reasons why this film will appeal to both men and women is because ultimately it is not about feminism but relates to essentially human themes. This is a modern coming of age movie with a true vintage feel to it; a combination that is fresh and exciting.
The driving creative force behind this movie is Drew Barrymore. She may have a somewhat ditsy personae frequently pushed by the tabloids but I have to admit that I really admire her. Most of her life has been spent in the public eye with overly publicized bouts with substance abused and a few failed marriages but she has worked extremely hard at personal and professional change until she is now one of the most powerful women in Hollywood and a deserving heir to the Barrymore legacy. In this film she celebrates her debut directing a feature film as well as serving as executive produce and acting in the movie. If anyone can tell a coming of age against adversity story it is this extremely talented young woman. Ms Barrymore’s turbulent relationship with her own mother greatly helps in providing the ring of truth to the scenes between the protagonist Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) and her mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden). This film represents the passing of the torch from one incredibly resourceful actress to another. The scenes between them are amazingly taut without wasting a single word, moment or expression. Barrymore has a seasoned style that comes from a lifetime working besides and for the giants of the industry. There is an easy going feel overall the balances some of the more serious themes explored here. She does capture the infectious energy of the sport letting it stand as a girl power flick for a new age.
Bodeen Texas is like a lot of small where the main ambition held by most of the young people is to find some means of escape. For Bliss she has been groomed by her mother to be a beauty pageant contestant and her good looks served her well leading to one crown after another. Unfortunately this is not what Bliss is interested in at all. Her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) shares the dream of leaving but her means lies in attendance at an Ivy League school, not an option for Bliss. While visiting Austin the pair attends the local Roller Derby together. Bliss is intrigued at first but soon realizes that the derby may be her ticket out of mundane life. She winds up joining after lying to the team’s management about her age and to her parents about what she is up to. Bliss creates on new persona in the ring, Babe Ruthless. Bliss lives up to her new name as her speed and agility make her s rising star of the derby. She finds camaraderie in the derby that was previously unimaginable to her. This becomes her filter to experience life, love and disappointment.
Ms Page may be young but her acting abilities are phenomenal. She is taking on the part of spirited young women going through the process of self discovery and reinvention. Instead of being type cast she constantly surprises me in the different nuances she brings to the roles. This is a must see movie that reinforces the value of independent movies.