I 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.