Friday, February 19, 2010

When a problem comes along.... you must "Whip It"

Bliss Cavender is clearly a misfit. The movie begins with a beauty pageant appearance, where she walks out with accidental blue hair. She is sullen and unhappy and does not appear to want to live the life her parents want for her. Sound familiar?

"Whip It" is a classic coming of age story - a high school misfit trying to find her "place", a young girl on the verge of adulthood, and a town that is too backward to be believed. Bliss (Ellen Page in Juno-esque form) has been in the beauty pageant circuit at her mother's urging, even though in reality she's an alt-ingenue. She wears black tights and boots and oversized clothes and works at the local diner, The Oink Joint. Her best friend is focused on getting into a college a long way from Bodeen, Texas, but Bliss is sort of aimless. While on a trip to Austin with her mom, three girls skate into the store where Bliss and her mom are shopping (which turns out to be a headshop in a funny awkward moment). In slow motion we see them laughing and having fun, tatted up and with colored hair. Something about them appeals to Bliss and she picks up one of their roller derby flyers.

Even if you don't know anything about this movie, you are probably guessing what happens next. Well, I won't tell you the details, but it involves lying, skating, laughing, crying, and a bunch of people learning how to be humble.

Though the story is pretty formulaic, there is so much to like about it. I don't know much about direction, but Drew Barrymore (in her directorial debut) managed to catch the excitement and fun of roller derby while using interesting camera angles that really made me look differently at some of the scenes. The cast of the "Hurl Scouts" is terrific and includes Eve, Juliette Lewis, and Kristen Wiig in addition to the other marquee stars, Barrymore and Page. Bliss's interactions with the team, and the team members love for each other is really terrific without going into any side melodrama. And Bliss's parents are played really well by Daniel Stern and Marcia Gay Harden.

In fact, Bliss's parents alone are a reason to watch this movie. Their love for her despite her misfit-ness is authentic and real, and later in the movie there is a moment in the kitchen where Bliss's mom sits down with her on the floor and they have a real heart to heart in a way that makes your heart wish more parents "got it". I appreciate that her parents aren't pushovers, they are strong parents negotiating life with an almost-adult and all three are trying to figure out what that means for the future and for their relationships.

Ellen Page may be the only downside to this movie. Though she is fantastic when she is skating, and she is fun to watch with the team, for so much of this movie she is really a lot like she was in "Juno". Once you've seen both movies, feel free to correct me, and maybe I need to see Juno again, but I feel like she was a little typecast as the girl who mumbles, makes witty/dry remarks, is too cool for school, but deep down is looking for inspiration. Don't get me wrong, she plays that role well, but I think she has a lot of promise as an actress and I'd have liked to see it in the whole movie, not just in few brief flashes. All of that being said, I'm not sure there is another young actress working right now who could have played the role of Bliss Cavendar with the subtlety and grace that Ellen Page did, so in that respect, there is no downside at all.

People: Rent this movie. After watching, you will be thinking "that is a delightful little film" and "I wonder if I can go watch any roller derby around here?!" Whip It warrants 4 pink pigs out of 5 in my book.


Sarah Gail said...

I TOTALLY agree! This movie is great!

Natalie said...

I love it! And yes, you can watch Roller Derby here in LA. The Derby Dolls are gaining popularity (in fact tonight's race is sold out), but you can check their schedule here:

Any movie that makes women feel like they have a place where they can be themselves is a great moving according to me. ;)