Whip It doesn't march to that Barrymore beat we've gotten so used to - remember Charlie's Angels and He's Just Not That Into You? This is one of those girl power movies, which appears at first glance to be pretty cliche. But when the sport is roller derby and the girl is Juno's Ellen Page, this overdone concept is given new life and old charm.
Based on the novel by Shauna Cross (who also wrote the screenplay) Whip It tells the story of Bliss Cavendar (Page), a 17-year-old girl living in the hick town of Bodeen, Texas. Her overbearing mother (Marcia Gay Harden) forces Bliss to compete in beauty pageants. Bliss, uninterested in better living through good posture, wonders what to do with her life - she can't waitress at the local diner forever. After picking up a roller derby flier at a punk clothing store, Bliss and her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) take a night on the town and head up to Austin to see the match. As a result, Bliss finds love for the first time - not with a boyfriend, that comes later - but with the sport.
Roller derby basically involves women on skates trying to knock each other down to score, and something about it appeals to Bliss like nothing else has. Despite being underage, she is convinced to try out for the Hurl Scouts, the worst team in the league. She discovers she has a natural speed that just needs attitude to back it up. Earning the nickname "Babe Ruthless," Bliss jump-starts these not-so-lovable losers into a run at the championship. There is plenty of comic relief, courtesy of Jimmy Fallon as "Hot Tub Johnny Rocket," the roller derby announcer. There is also a cute date scene between Bliss and the boyfriend (Landon Pigg), where they play "find the keys," followed by a strange underwater sex scene which is trademark Barrymore - blurring adorable and awkward.
The scenes where Bliss grows closer to the derby girls and farther from her parents demonstrate Barrymore's potential as a director. We are reminded that she's fun to watch as an actor with her character Smashley Simpson, who's clearly smashed her head one time too many. Parts of the movie are predictable, but it's too cute for anyone to care. And for once, Barrymore ties it up nicely without getting schmaltzy, as she's prone to do. For a movie with a lot of elbows thrown and bloody noses, Whip It is surprisingly delightful.
Mina Asayesh-Brown is a sophomore at St. Petersburg High.
Grade * * * *
Director: Drew Barrymore
Cast: Sarah Habel, Shannon Eagen, Edward Austin Austin, Mary Callaghan Lynch, Ellen Page
Running time: 111 minutes