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Review: Whip It

Whip It
8 10

PLOT: Bliss Cavendar is living her postal worker mother’s dream. She is doing a pageant here and a pageant there, but none of it seems to fit who she really is. But when Bliss discovers a group of girls in a roller derby league, she finally discovers what she really wants. She decides she wants to play professionally, even though she has to lie about her age, and she is forced to lie to her parents, knowing that they would not approve. Once she is in the limelight, she finds the idea of balancing skating, boyfriends and family an extremely difficult one.

REVIEW: Here’s the deal, it is easy to watch a preview of a movie and have a vague idea of what it is going to be like but end up being completely wrong. For example, I watched the trailer for the latest film directed by Drew Barrymore (who also co-stars) called WHIP IT and expected something sort of cheesy and mildly amusing. I didn’t however expect that somehow, Ms. Barrymore would take all that energy she has every time she is doing an interview, you know, that kind of offbeat sweetness she always seems to have, and package it into a terrific little flick about a woman’s roller derby league. I certainly had no idea Whip It would be a stupendously awesome movie loaded with charm. Everything that is cool and quirky about Drew is in this kick ass chick flick that even dudes can root for. I loved the fact that screenwriter Shauna Cross (who also wrote the novel “Derby Girl” on which the film is based) injects a complete group of characters that feel complete and interesting. Even the parents are kinda, sorta cool here.

Let’s start with the film’s leading lady Ellen Page. She’s been a favorite for audiences and critics alike with her work in HARD CANDY and, of course, JUNO, so it’s no surprise that she is marvelous here. I don’t know many actresses that can convey such vulnerability and strength all at the same time. Her Bliss Cavendar is equal parts hero and victim. She makes you believe that this little thing can kick some major arse with much tougher girls, like the wonderfully bitchy Iron Maven (a fantastic turn from Juliette Lewis). Ellen is the core that connects all the other characters, good and bad. The beauty of this is there is no real bad guy here yet there is a believable conflict between Bliss, her parents and rival girls. Even her best friend Pash (the immensely charming Alia Shawkat) finds herself a little pissed off at Bliss. But it all works because each character is portrayed with such great energy and charm.

I have to say that Kristen Wiig is easily becoming a favorite of mine. Here, she offers a fresh kind of persona where she is not simply the funny one. She is caring and smart and insanely interesting to watch. I love this woman. And I’m happy to see her working alongside with this cast. This is a casting dream, as every single one of these guys are perfectly placed in this entertaining world. Especially the roles of Earl and Brooke Cavendar. Marcia Gay Harden is truly one of the best actors working today. She is always pitch perfect and this is no exception. Thanks to the above average writing and this strong performance, you feel for the mom that only wants the best for her daughter, even if it isn’t necessarily what her daughter wants. It is also a pleasure to see Daniel Stern playing dad. Both Harden and Stern have a very natural chemistry together, and it is refreshing to actually like the parents in a movie of this ilk.

We’ve all seen this kind of sports movie before, where the unlikeliest of heroes somehow goes against all odds and finds success. But with Whip It, most of the clichés that you’d find are tinkered with and it all feels renewed. While there certainly is a slight predictability in the story of a young girl who wants to play roller derby, and of course, she does. But rarely is there as much spirit and heart in it. Somebody loves this sport, and they were able to convince others how damn cool it is. And the movie is an absolute love letter to derby. It shows in the performances, the music and a surprisingly strong director. Drew Barrymore really went all out for her directorial debut. She adds a spark to the excitement and is able to balance the love story (mostly), the coming of age story and the sports story. I had a smile on my face the entire time while watching Whip It.

Is it perfect? Not completely. With such a wonderful cast, a few really charming ladies weren’t given enough to do. Like the lovely Zoe Bell as Bloody Holly. I would love to see her do more comic material. Can she pull it off? I’m not sure, but I’d love to see her in a romantic comedy. I also felt that the whole love story angle wasn‘t always on the mark. I almost would’ve rather seen it handled in a different way, maybe a little less casual. Bliss’ boyfriend is certainly the weakest link in the film. It is not because his character is so awful, or it is a bad performance from Landon Pigg, it just felt less important than the rest of the film. Yet I can honestly say that Whip It is an absolute blast. It seems Drew Barrymore has really whipped up a delightful first feature. The little girl from E.T. is all grown up! My rating 8.5/10 -- JimmyO





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