Movie Review: Whip it (Ellen Page, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis) 2009

Posted: April 8, 2012 in Comedy
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Bliss (Page) is a 17 year old girl growing up in Bodeen Texas.  Her mom Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) enters her in beauty pageants.  In an act of rebellion, she colors her hair blue before one of the pageants.  In a further act of rebellion, Bliss picks up a flier at a head shop for the local roller derby.  Bliss then goes to the roller derby with her friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) One of the roller derby girls tells Bliss to join the team, and so she does, behind her mother’s back, of course.  Bliss also meets an alternative rocker named Oliver (Landon Pigg) They fall for each other instantly. Meanwhile Bliss’ speed at the roller rink is making her an integral part of the roller derby team and her teammates Maggie Mayhem, (Kristen Wiig) and Smashley Simpson ( Drew Barrymore) like her.  Bliss and Oliver’s late night in a swimming pool ends up causing trouble for everyone.  Pash gets arrested for drinking, and her parents find out that she’s part of the roller derby team and not studying for her SAT’s.   On top of that one of Bliss’ roller derby rivals, Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) finds out that Bliss is only 17 and threatens to have her kicked out of the roller derby.  As if that weren’t enough. Bliss sees a picture of Oliver with another girl on the band’s website.  Bliss needs the permission of one parent to keep playing in the roller derby, does she get it?  Does she patch things up with Pash and Oliver?

This movie suffers from awful casting in the lead role, and a dated concept, other than that it’s fine.  Of all the movies I expected to see Ellen Page in a movie about roller derby is not one.  Page is not the most athletic type of actress in the world, and the transition from her tripping all over herself to her being the speediest and best skater on the team literally happens in one montage.  Too fast.  Does anyone even play roller derby anymore?  I haven’t seen roller derby since the 70’s and kids today would be lost as to what it is.  So there’s a lot of dialogue actually explaining what roller derby is, which is a waste of time.  Who would fight to be a roller derby queen?  Certainly Ellen Page wouldn’t and that’s where miscasting and anachronistic concept meet with a loud thud.  Marcia Gay Harden is totally wasted as a clichéd pageant mom, but great actress that she is, Harden makes the most of her role, and actually gives her character some nice human touches.  I wonder if Barrymore was drawn to this movie, by the presence of a doting stage mom type, which might reflect her own experience with her own mother.  The relationship between Bliss and Oliver is predictable and hackneyed.  A lot is made of Barrymore’s directorial debut, but the pace of this movie is slow, and the roller derby sequences seem disjointed.  That’s not to say there aren’t good performances in this movie.  Alia Shawkat is very good as Bliss’ best friend Pash, her story was more interesting to me then Bliss’. Marcia Gay Harden is very good, Kristen Wiig is good as Maggie Mayhem, the teammate with a maternal instinct toward Bliss and it’s nice to see Juliette Lewis, even if she does play sort of a heavy.  It is about girl power, and it is directed, produced and written by women so that’s a start.  And there are just enough twists at the end to avoid this movie being a total cliché.  But the length, of an hour and 51 minutes is excessive.

Whip it.  Torturous.

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