Drew Barrymore / USA / 2009
Like many sports flicks, ‘Whip It' is about the star's journey of self-realisation. On the way, viewers get a deeply fun blast through a bruising minority sport that is similar to the game ‘Dodgeball', which was the subject of a sports comedy in recent years.
The story follows small town teen Bliss Cavender, whose mum wants her to play dress up on the beauty pageant circuit. But Bliss, played by Ellen Page -- who made her name in the teen film 'Juno' -- is sick to death of living her mum's dreams through beauty pageants. She picks up a flier to a roller derby in nearby Austin and soon loves the game.
For the uninitiated roller derby is a particular painful contact sport played on roller skates. As the film explains two teams fly around a circuit split into blockers and jammers, with the jammers attempting to loop the opposing blockers in order to score. The speed and hard surfaces make the game wincingly violent. One scene has the team comparing their big ugly black bruises and there are plenty of knock-outs along the way.
Soon enough Bliss is sneaking off to trials, lying about her age and fast becomes the latest new addition for local team, the Hurl Scouts. Taking names like ‘Maggie Mayhem' and wearing customised fishnets with green waistcoats, the roller girls are really just as style obsessed as the beauty queens. That adds a twist to the usual story arc of newbie character learning the ropes, meeting the colourful team-mates and battling for acceptance on the home front leading to the grand finale.
Amongst the cast, Andrew Wilson stands out as the team's passionate and slightly too intense coach Razor. Trying to coordinate a team mostly interested in tit-for-tat fighting on the rink proves futile until Bliss shows a flicker of potential. After one insult too many, he flips, giving one of his plays to a rival team. Mid-game the opposition pack suddenly stop and simultaneously knock the ‘Hurl Scouts' to the ground in one blistering blow. It's an illegal move by roller derby rules but a very painful one to watch. Understandably the team start to listen to their coach from here on in.
Ever since ‘Juno' Page seems built to play the indie suburban teenager and this is no exception. Shauna Cross' screenplay (based on Cross' own dalliance with roller derby in the early noughties) may not be as knowing as Diablo Cody's in ‘Juno' but the film is stuffed full of great one liners like this one from a pageant wannabe: ‘If I could have dinner with anyone it would have to be God, because like they say God is great...'
Actress-turned-director Drew Barrymore really homes in on the kitschy fashion of the roller girls and the music follows suit stuffed full of punky anthems in a witty film which isn't quite as independent as it makes out. Or perhaps given the confines of the sports film genre she knows exactly what's she doing.