Whip It (2009)

Whip It

I can’t recall how many times I’d watched roller derby on TV, years back, maybe just a few times.  When I asked my niece who watched the movie with me, as a twenty-something, she hasn’t even seen it once.   But Drew Barrymore, in her directorial debut, has effectively captured the human side of a sport not many know about.  And with it, she has poignantly woven in some relevant issues her audience could relate to, no matter what demographics they’re in: coming-of-age, finding love, confronting parental expectations, searching for personhood and empowerment, parenting and letting go.

After watching Juno (2007), I knew I must see more of Ellen Page.  Here in Whip It, Page has proven that she’s not just impressive as an actor, but also as an athlete.   She plays Bliss Cavendar, a 17 year-old small town Texas girl, bored, docile, shuffled from one beauty pageant to another by her overbearing mother Brooke, a former beauty queen turned middle-age mail clerk (sensitively played by Marcia Gay Harden, Mystic River, 2003; Pollack, 2000).

After she watches a roller derby game with her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat), and successfully tries out for the team Hurl Scouts in Austin, Texas, Bliss, now Babe Ruthless, sees her life take off with high octane energy.  She has passionately fallen for the high contact sport and a new boyfriend, rock band member Oliver (Landon Pigg).

The head-smashing, rowdy derby culture is probably the farthest away from the frothy and genteel beauty pageants of Texas, thus forms the great chasm between mother and daughter.  Of course Bliss tries to hide all her activities from her mother, until it can’t be covered anymore.  For she has become the poster girl for the final championship.

There are cliché sequences that we’ve all seen before, the light version of physical prowess as in Million Dollar Baby (2004), the get-back-up perseverance of Rocky, and, reminiscence of Shall We Dance (2004) in the final championship.  But, it’s all fun and even exhilarating.  Thanks to a great cast, the humor comes through naturally.  I must mention some great deadpan act from diner manager Birdman (Carlo Alban), who reminds me of Pedro in Napoleon Dynamite (2004).   Another great support is Hurl Scouts coach Razor played by Andrew Wilson.  His performance makes me feel like I’m watching a Wes Anderson movie.  Later I find out he’s older brother to Owen, then it’s all clear to me… it runs in the family.

[picapp src=”6/4/3/c/Whip_It_Los_86ef.JPG?adImageId=5337308&imageId=6660163″ width=”180″ height=”250″ /]  Barrymore has effectively created some powerful and touching scenes that make the comedy worthwhile.  It’s scenes like these that propel a comedy into the realm of meaning.  She has balanced the comical with hard reality, for it’s not simply about a girl choosing what she wants to do, purely from her own point of view.  Often our choices are entangled in a web of relationships.  Yes, we may have the autonomy to choose, but our choices also affect others.  Some gratifying moments are sensitively performed, between mother and daughter, father and daughter, and a 36 year-old derby teammate who openly shares her heart with Bliss in the car, with her young son in the back seat.

Into its second week of screening, Whip It has not fared as well as expected at the box office.  But for screenwriter Shauna Cross, who has turned her own novel Derby Girl into screenplay, I trust this is just another blow she’s got all too used to, as a roller derby girl herself from Austin Texas, before moving to L.A.  She knows how to get back up and keep on skating, even in the aggressive arena that’s L.A.

(Top Photo Source: USA Today, Bottom: PicApp.com)

~ ~ ~ Ripples

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

24 thoughts on “Whip It (2009)”

  1. Wow, great review of a movie I didn’t think I’d see, but now maybe I will. I really like how you brought the experience of the author/screenwriter in at the end, that was brilliant.

    I laughed out loud at the name ‘Hurl Scouts.’

    I wonder what interested Barrymore about this story. It’s nice to hear about a movie that is of a story far removed from anything I’ve seen. I would love to see Ellen Page again.

    Ruth,

    I admit I was uninitiated, if not because of Ellen Page, I wouldn’t have gone to see it. As for the names, they’re creative… I mentioned Bliss becomes Babe Ruthless on the rink. Some of her other teammates are Bloody Holly, Rosa Sparks, Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore), and Maggie Mayhem, which is the real life derby name for our author/screenwriter Shauna Cross.

    Arti

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  2. Me and grandma, watching roller derby on tv… when I could get her away from Gorgeous George and pro wrestling, of course.

    Roller derby may not be familiar to today’s kids, but it seems to me that if you substituted “skateboarding” for roller derby and a 14 year old boy for a Texas pageant competitor, you could make a movie with the same dynamics. That’s not a criticism of the film. In fact, it may be an acknowledgement of the universality of its themes.

    There’s a certain irony here. While Bliss is involved with the pageants, her life is going in circles. After she becomes involved with roller derby, her physical circling impels her life straight into the future. What’s not to love about that?

    Linda,

    Recent revival of roller derby began in Austin, Texas in 2000 … wonder why Austin, Texas. Maybe you can shed some light on this subject as a Texan. Also, good point about the circling in life.

    Arti

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    1. Arti ~

      Austin’s known for being free-wheeling, committed to local control and community-based projects and organizations. It’s the home of Whole Foods and deeply liberal/progressive, despite being the capitol of a deeply conservative state. It’s Texas’ last hippie enclave, except for a few weeks in summer when the hardcore head for the Kerrville Folk Fest, and as tech-savvy and tech-oriented as Redmond, WA or Mountain View, CA.

      The arts flourish there – including filmmaking! – and the SXSW (South by Southwest) music festival, which also promotes indie film and bloggers, is expecting 2,000 bands in 2010! If you’ve never looked through the SXSW schedule, you need to: http://sxsw.com/home

      There’s the Austin City Limits music festival in Zilker Park, not to mention roller blading, and the folks still gather for skinny-dipping fun out at Hippie Hollow at Lake Travis. (It’s family-oriented, with an online forum for those unsure of skinny-dipping etiquette…)

      In any event, roller derby is the perfect distillation of Austin: sexy, athletic, self-directed, self-promoted, fiercely competitive and capable of being done to music!
      Not only that, it fits right in with the unofficial city slogan: “Keep Austin Weird”!

      Hey… thanks for the info, Linda! I knew I asked the right person!

      Arti

      Like

  3. Aha! well, that’s a whole other story, then. This one can go from “nah, we don’t want to see it” to “Hey, want to go with me Wed nite?” (will ask daughter and best friend.)

    Thanks, Arti. There’s plenty here to like. I had no idea.

    oh,

    It’s always fun to explore strange, new worlds… Have a great time with your daughter and best friend!

    Arti

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  4. Brings back memories of sitting with the family when I was young and watching Roller Derby every week. :0) We really got into it. Thanks for the review.

    Ellen,

    It’s something that I’m not very familiar with. But hey, it’s always interesting to see how others are dealing with life…

    Arti

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  5. I really enjoyed the film – not only was it a lot of fun, but it had some heart, too. I think this is one of those movies that will slowly develop a cult following, which in the end isn’t such a bad thing.

    The presence of Ellen Page + the soundtrack + the silly premise got me interested in checking out Whip It, and it exceeded expectations. Juliette Lewis was amazing, and surprisingly, Kristen Wiig was also excellent, straying from her annoying nervous character that she always seems to do.

    Still, the highlight of the film for me is the music, especially since Drew Barrymore used “Unattainable” by Little Joy – that was my favorite song of 2008, and it was great to hear it (along with a host of other great songs) get more exposure.

    darci,

    Thanks for supplementing all the info about the movie. I agree with you, it’s a movie with some heart.

    Arti

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      1. Oh, there’s no question!

        I’m “Sweetness and Fight”!

        Arti, I have to tell you – it’s grounded in the song I learned to skate to – “Sweet City Woman”, by your very own Stampeders, from Calgary. It’s got just the right rhythm for street skating. Do you remember it? Such a nice, happy, sweet song!

        Of course, I remember Linda. That’s a classic! 1971… one year after I came to Canada from HK. It’s awesome that a home grown band from Cowtown could have one single that hit so big in N. America. Oh… we’re really reminiscing these days, aren’t we? Likewise, roller derby brings back special memories to some of us too.

        And… what’s blogging for, if not to round up our own roller derby team, eh?

        Arti

        Like

  6. Yes! I remember Sweet City Woman… sweet, sweet, sweet, sweet city woman…”

    oh geez, it will now be stuck in my head….but fun to recall these tunes and remember what I was doing when it was a hit!

    .

    oh,

    And your derby name is…? oh well, I’m sure you can find one from ds’s list below. See you in practice!

    Arti

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  7. Arti, this is a great review of a movie I probably would never see (but I’ll watch for it on cable in a year or so). I love Ellen Page, too. Was wondering why the costumes so resembled my old Girl Scout uniform, but duh, they’re the Hurl Scouts *head smack* And sure, I’ll join your roller derby team: you can call me….Sylvia Splat.

    (other monikers available if anyone wishes: Jane Oust’em (too close to ruth); Isabel I’llendye; Daphne Tomurderya; Iris HardRock; The EMForcer; Flannery Yo!Goner!)

    Yes, it was a highly productive afternoon…but fun.
    Thank you.

    ds,

    Thanks for joining! And how cool are these monikers for lit bloggers turned roller derby warriors! I can smell victory already! EMForcer, Flannery Yo!Goner!… ingenious!

    Arti

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  8. Doh! I called them roller blade names. 😐

    Hahaha.

    I bet nobody noticed.

    Oh, Linda, why did you get that song into my head!!?

    Yes I want to hear Oh’s too.

    DS! Sylvia Splat is awesome! 😀

    Jane Oust’em is terrific too. Hahaha Isabel I’llendye hahaha. Daphne’s is especially apt with all her gothicness. I’m afraid I’m not familiar with Iris’ namesake. The EMForcer is brilliant. Flannery Yo!Goner! is hilarious!! DS, you are a clever, clever girl!

    Ruth,

    You were skating so fast it really didn’t matter. Don’t worry about it. Yes, ds’ list is so clever, real fun. BTW, I think that’s Iris Murdoch.

    Arti

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    1. Ruth, those blades skated right by me! 😉

      I’ll bet Oh comes up with something brilliant!

      And. I. Can’t. Get. That. Song. Out. Of. My. Head.

      No cleverness here. Just Saturday afternoon ennui & a bookshelf. That’s why I know Oh is going to blow us all away!

      So, Arti, when’s practice?

      ds,

      Thanks for coming up with names enough for the whole team. Virtual rink, anytime, see you there.

      Arti

      Like

  9. Arti,
    Great to read a review from another movie lover. I have been spending most of my blogging time at http://www.digitalbonnie.com/ writing movie reviews. So when shoreacres left your link in her comment, I had to check you out.
    Glad I did. You’re in my Google Reader now.
    Don’t you love this linking?
    Great review. Mine tend to be shorter so I love to learn more from reviews like yours. I loved it too.
    Bonnie

    Bonnie,

    Glad you stopped by to visit. I went to yours too, cool movie blog… I’ll certainly visit more often. Thanks for linking.

    Arti

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  10. You know I was an extra in the film, and wanting to see myself on screen was of course what prompted me to see it most. This movie is a girl power film, and it was marketed that way, and I’m wondering if this is why the film didn’t do as well as it should have. I enjoyed it, and it wasn’t because I was in it or it was filmed here in Michigan.

    Like

    1. thegirlfromtheghetto,

      Cool whip! It must be great fun, and exhausting, to be an extra in this film! And your posts as an eye-witness are impressive! We only review a movie as an audience, after the fact, but you, as a participant, during the production!

      Your point about people staying away because it’s a ‘girl power’ film is thought-provoking. Shouldn’t it at least appeal to half of our population? Maybe the idea of roller derby not being that popular nowadays… or… Anyway, I wish Drew Berrymore and Ellen Page all the best in their future careers, and also, our ‘Derby Girl’, screenwriter Shauna Cross.

      Thanks for your visit and comment!

      Like

  11. Hi, Arti:

    I wish I had read your review of Whip It sooner; I might have been able to rustle up a “date” for the movie had I shared your write-up :o) In the end, I took myself to see the film, not because I wanted to go alone, but because I couldn’t get anyone to go with me! My husband, who remembers joyously watching roller derby in his callous youth, was scared off at the prospect of a “chick flick.” My female friends and acquaintances loved the idea of Ellen Page and a “chick flick,” but couldn’t abide the idea of roller derby. Go figure! Anyway, I enjoyed the film and found it sweet, funny, and thought provoking. It just seems ironic to me that
    most of the discussions I’ve had about this film were with people who didn’t see it!

    I do want to tell you that one time when Whip It was an option, a dear friend and I went to see Bright Star instead. It turned out to be a stellar decision as the film was gorgeous, the acting superb. I didn’t see a review of it on your blog, though I may have overlooked it. In any case, it is a film that cries out for an Arti Response. Almost all of us in the theater had gray hair; we figured that no one under 50 probably knows who John Keats is anymore! I was so moved by the film I went back to see it again and have been happily brewing tea and re-reading Keats’ poetry since then.

    Movies….. aren’t they just wonderful?!

    Jay

    Like

    1. Jay,

      Oh… I wish I could join you! Anyway, roller derby is so distant to me, but the human POV is interesting, especially as a parent. This is reality: what if your children choose to follow their passion in something that you don’t approve of, or hard to accept. Anyway, I thought it’s a neat little gem.

      As for Bright Star. You know, I’ve seen it once, and I thought I need to see it again to write about it, so to give it justice. I’m not giving out any spoiler here regarding my response, so… wait for the review of Bright Star on Ripple Effects. One of these days, when I’m all ready, feel I can write something substantial, then that’ll be the day. Slow blogger at work here 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by and sharing your view. My pleasure to read your comment, as always.

      Like

  12. A friend skates flat track roller derby for the Killmore Girls here in Minneapolis. I’ve been to several of her bouts and never fail to have a great time. I am looking forward to seeing this movie!

    Stefanie,

    The Killmore Girls … Ha! I think you’ll really enjoy the movie then… should bring your friend along and see what she thinks!

    Arti

    Like

  13. Well, it’s high time I got here! Thanks, Arti, for the email and DS for the vote of faith and for her literary team of derby pros. Who could resist after all Ruth’s call to create names?
    Now, if only I could skate!
    I was thinking Dee-No Mercy or DLo Kickit…

    Our blog team? the Rockin’ Bloggs, featuring:
    Ruthie Rinkstealer
    DS Shatter
    Shore A Shocker
    Arti Calgirl
    Ohyou Nuthin

    I’d better get to the gym…!

    oh,

    Great! Personalized too… guess we’re all set to go… learn skating… except S. A. Shocker, who must be an expert skater by now. We gotta catch up!

    Arti

    Like

  14. Woohoo! One heck of a lineup! Thanks, oh, for the great names; thanks Ruth for getting us “rolling”; thanks shoreacres for our theme song; and thanks so much Arti for rounding us all up!!!

    Virtual skating rocks!

    Like

  15. Thanks for the review! I probably will see this movie now. I wasn’t too inspired by the roller derby theme at first but it sounds kind of fun and exciting to watch. Maybe I’ll rent it when the wind’s blowing really hard here and I don’t want to go out.

    From your neighbor to the south …

    Janelle,

    Roller derby isn’t my area of interest either… but it’s also fun to see how it can be used as a backdrop (or forefront, either way) to present some pertinent issues, interesting to see them through a different frame. Sure, wait till the wind blows, and for us here up north, it’s all too frequent.

    Enjoy your nice weather.

    Arti

    Like

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