Review: Whip It (TIFF)
PLOT: Ellen Page is Bliss, a teenage beauty queen, who rebels against her pageant loving mother (Marcia Gay Harden), to take up competitive roller derby. She joins a roller crew run by the hard living Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore), and soon comes under the wing of veteran skater/ single mom, Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig). Her star begins to quickly rise on the circuit, putting her at odds with reigning roller queen Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) who threatens to derail her career before it's even begun.
REVIEW: I must admit that I was somewhat prejudiced against WHIP IT, when I heard that it was Drew Barrymore's directorial debut. I have nothing personal against Barrymore, who seems like a perfectly nice person, but to say her films over the last decade or so haven't been my cup of tea would be a massive understatement. I found the CHARLIE'S ANGELS film positively painful to watch, and I'm not even going to get started on films like HE'S JUST NOT THAT INTO YOU or LUCKY YOU (although she also helped bring us DONNIE DARKO so she's certainly not all bad).
Imagine my surprise at the fact that WHIP IT ended up being a total blast. For her first film as a director, Barrymore's done a bang-up job. WHIP IT is a fun, quirky, and cool coming of age flick, that also sheds some light on the growing women's roller derby cult- which is fairly big here in Montreal, and has been catching on big time in recent years.
It also gives star Ellen Page a worthy follow-up to JUNO, which, despite the growing backlash, I still think is a great film. When I heard Barrymore was casting Page as her heroine, I assumed she's pretty much be playing JUNO on roller skates, but I was wrong. While Bliss does have a few things in common with Juno (primarily love of indie rock), they're not all that similar. For one thing, Bliss is a lot tougher, and less smart-alecky than JUNO, and, most importantly, does not use the pop-culture infused patois Diablo Cody invented for her. She also is a lot less socially awkward- as JUNO was a misfit, but Bliss actually could fit into the popular cliques at her high school- she just doesn't want to. I really liked the character, and I thought Page was great, as was Alia Shawkat, from ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, who plays her best pal.
I also really enjoyed SNL's Kristen Wiig as the experienced skater that befriends young Bliss. Wiig's one of my favorite comedienne's working today, and here she gets to try something a little more serious (but still funny), and excels. I hope she starts landing lead roles soon, as I really feel like she could be a breakout star if she gets the chance. As for Barrymore, she plays a smaller part, mostly serving as comic relief focusing her attentions behind the camera.
As for the rest of the cast, everyone does a great job, including Juliette Lewis, who gets her first truly substantial role in years, as Page's roller skating rival. Another familiar face retuning after a long absence is Daniel Stern, who gets a gem of a role as Page's brow-beaten, sympathetic father.
My only real issue with WHIP IT, is that the romantic subplot between Page, and her indie-rock boyfriend, played by Landon Pigg, is a little weak, with their underwater love-scene being the only part of the film that really struck me as phony baloney, maudlin crap. That aside I still genuinely liked WHIP IT. While it's utterly predictable, I still had a lot of fun with it, and I think others will too when it comes out in a few weeks. As for Barrymore, she shows surprising talent as a director, and I look forward to seeing what she does next.
Other reviews from TIFF: MEN WHO STARE AT GOATS - UP IN THE AIR - JENNIFER'S BODY - THE INVENTION OF LYING - DAYBREAKERS - YOUTH IN REVOLT - THE BOYS ARE BACK - THE ROAD - THE INFORMANT!- BAD LIEUTENANT: PORT OF CALL NEW ORLEANS - A SERIOUS MAN- LEAVES OF GRASS- SOLITARY MAN- THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS - MICMACS
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