Whip It Rocks

by Melissa Silverstein on September 30, 2009

in Reviews

whipit_finish_rgbI needed a pick me up yesterday after way too much depressing reading on the Roman Polanski situation and as soon as I arrived at the theatre to see a bunch of awesome women on roller blades with names like Fisty Cuffs and Beatrix Strange skating around outside the theatre I knew that my day had improved.

And the better news is that the film totally rocked.  Whip It is exactly the perfect movie for our time.  It doesn’t hit you over the head with the feminism but it is there in every breath and every beat.  Ellen Page is adorable as Bliss Cavendar a Texas girl who just doesn’t fit in with all the pageant obsessed folks in her town which includes her mom played by Marcia Gay Harden.  She wants to to wear Doc Maartens instead of heels and really hates doing all the pageant crap but does it to please her mom.  Mom is desperate for her daughter to do something, to amount to something, but the only thing she knows is pageants so she points her in that direction. I love the class issues in the film.  Mom was pretty, not gorgeous, and she is now a mail carrier who channels everything into her 2 daughters.  I totally loved Daniel Stern as Bliss’ dad who just wants his daughter to be happy and could care less that she is in roller derby.  Actually, he does care.  He loves it.  He loves that his daughter is an athlete.  The most touching scene was when he proudly hammers her number sign into his yard as so many Texas dads of football players do.

But Bliss wants more for her life than pageants and working in a dead end job.  When she discovers roller derby she finds her tribe.  These women get her.  They get each other.  They kick the shit out of each other on the track and have a ton of fun at it.

Drew Barrymore not only directs, she produces the film and co-stars as Smashley Simpson one of the skaters who constantly gets thrown out of the matches for kicking the shit out of the other women.  It’s hysterical.  And the best news to me is the confidence and comfort that Barrymore shows as a director.  It’s just that good.  Barrymore has had a great year onscreen in Grey Gardens and now on and off screen in Whip It. I want her and her production company to keep making films like this instead of crap like He’s Just Not That Into Me.

Kristen Wiig is fantastic as Maggie Mayhem a doting mom who just loves skating.  But to me the revelation was Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven, a woman who took a long time to find out where she belonged and is going to hold onto it with every fiber of her being.

The script is terrifically written by Shauna Cross and is based on her novel of the same name which is based on her own experiences as part of the LA Derby Dolls.  This is a seriously talented woman and the film gave me a sense of hope because it was able to get the tone of girl power/feminism and realism just right.

Here’s what Barrymore says about the film:

This film is really personal and important to me because it’s about a girl finding out who she is, going after what she believes in and bringing out the best in herself  It’s set agains tthe world of roller derby, which is about grit and toughness, but there’s also this great winnk and celebration and fun to it.  It’s feminine on its own terms, it’s about power without anger and it’s exhibitionism that entertains.  It’s a world where you get to be your own hero and find your own tribe.

Whip It proves that films can be feminist and fun.  That in itself is worthy the price of admission.

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{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

Elizabeth September 30, 2009 at 11:21 AM

I saw this at TIFF this year and agree completely. I find it so difficult to find teenage female characters who feel real and between this and An Education, I was quite satisfied by finding movies about teenage girls that I actually liked.

“the film gave me a sense of hope because it was able to get the tone of girl power/feminism and realism just right.”

This exactly. It was about girls going after what they want on their own terms and not on someone else’s, and I really think that message of (as the tagline says) being your own damn hero is done in a way that isn’t alienating to people who hear the word “feminism” and run in the opposite direction.

What I’m really hoping is that the star power of the cast and crew is able to draw people in and make a mainstream hit of a very pro-woman film so that when people hear “feminist film” they don’t automatically assume it’s a low-budget, indie production that only tours the festival circuit before going straight to DVD. With all the optimism I can muster, I’d like to think that this movie being a) good and b) successful will help other movies like this get made.

Maura McHugh September 30, 2009 at 11:41 AM

Can’t wait to see it! I’ve been looking forward to it since you posted the first trailer for it.

Michelle September 30, 2009 at 12:09 PM

Now this is what I’ve been asking for; feminism wrapped up in a big ole’blanket of entertainment. Hooray, can’t wait to fork over my cash for this one.

Kelly Gingery September 30, 2009 at 3:00 PM

I too saw this flick at a screening last night and absolutely loved it as well! Even better, I took my 16-year-old daughter who asked: “Why aren’t there more fun movies like this?”

Indeed. Why aren’t there?

Well, I’m with commenter Elizabeth in hoping this film is successful and helps pave the way for others like it…fingers tightly crossed!

I also have to agree with Melissa about Drew’s directing. All I kept thinking was that Drew has grown up on movie sets and she was most definitely paying attention. What an interesting choice of script and a truly great directorial debut.

The action scenes were fun and energetic, the family scenes heartfelt but not cliched, and the casting was spot-on.

Bravo Miss Barrymore, I can’t wait to see what you set your sights on next.

PonyGirl September 30, 2009 at 3:09 PM

Just a quick correction – Drew Barrymore plays “Smashley Simpson”. The team name is the “Hurl Scouts”.

As a derby player, I’d also be surprised if the skaters outside promoting were in roller blades and not quad roller skates, but a lot of us do use both off the track…

Chris Evans September 30, 2009 at 3:12 PM

Now I’m just hoping this does well at the box office.

Dig September 30, 2009 at 3:45 PM

I just made a derby team a little more than a month ago and my entire league has been promoting the HELL out of that film.

My team caught a preview showing last night and we all LOVED IT! Hopefully it’s gonna elevate the sport AND be a paean to feminism at the same time. :)

Dyke Diggler (but you can call me Dig)
Scare Force One
DC Rollergirls
dcrollergirls.com

Kate October 5, 2009 at 12:14 AM

I’m going to watch this movie SO HARD. (And probably drag all my guy friends to see it too, so they can see that movies about women can still be– shocking!– good.)

@Dig: Dyke Diggler is a fabulous name!

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