Sunday, October 4, 2009

Love: Whip It (Second Take)

Is it totally lame for me to come on here and essentially reiterate everything my esteemed colleague M. has already written about Drew Barrymore's directorial debut Whip It? Maybe a little bit... but the film is a small gem and deserves a little excess praise, especially considering its poor showing at this weekend's box office. Barring a brief moment of shilling Covergirl's Lashblast mascara (yes, the very same one Barrymore appears in ads for), Whip It is a stand up model of honest coming of age cinema that might be a little loose on the story side, but makes up for it in enthusiasm and bloody noses.
Ellen Page is the star and standout as small-town teen Bliss Cavendar: high school student and BBQ waitress extraordinaire.  Bliss's extracurriculars are limited to her mother's (Marcia Gay Harden) misplaced devotion to beauty pageants.  Bliss, directionless and bored, finds an accidental outlet for her angst in the Austin roller derby scene. She's in awe of the women she sees kicking ass on 8-wheels, who we can assume appear to her (after years with blue hairs and Texas football) like tangible rock stars. After a brief yet encouraging conversation with a Hurl Scout team member, Bliss decides to bite the bullet and try out. Soon, she's the Scout's newest member: Babe Ruthless. From there the plot plays out essentially as expected, through a push -pull of responsibilities and new found passion, with extra doses of fishnets and shoving. Like I said, the story isn't necessarily something brand new, it's operating within a handful of established tropes. The delivery, however,  is something special.
Whip It is a film free of the plastic pressures of so many other coming of age stories aimed at girls. There's no sense here of Bliss needing to compromise herself or bend to school cliques, boyfriends, or traditional standard of beauty. In fact, Barrymore has successfully managed to shirk most instances of cattiness altogether, creating a real sense of community (even in competition) between the rollicking derby girls. There is something to be said about the deft execution of a feminist film that manages to be remarkably charming while remaining thoroughly true to itself. I'd even argue that this is the antidote to a generation of girls currently under the thrall of Twilight's backwards thinking. But...that's a story for another time.
Overall, the film resists the traps of drippy chick flicks and saccharine mother-daughter tales the way a derby girl dodges an unruly elbow. It's smart with a good dose of attitude and realism. Ellen Page successfully manages to become someone other than smart-mouthed Juno, and is relatably awkward and hesitant in her rebellion. The rest of the cast has been filled in perfectly as well. It's nice to see Kristen Wiig toned down, Alia Shawkat outside of "Arrested Development", Zoe Bell (Death Proof) smiling through her stunts, and Juliette Lewis, well, back. While Whip It may not be perfect,  it's an entertaining and satisfying film that makes for an impressive enough debut feature for director Drew Barrymore. It should be noted, also, that Barrymore knows her way around a soundtrack.


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