With Drew Barrymore’s big time acting debut now a distant memory and E.T. firmly filed under the “All Time Classics” section in every film guide ever, it seems apt that its once cherub-like child star is back and wowing everyone with her directorial debut Whip It.
Adapted from the novel Derby Girl, garnered from the bruising real-life experiences of screenwriter convert Shauna Cross, Barrymore leads us deep into Bodeen, hick territory, Texas and the life of Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page). Young, shy and uninspired, Bliss is desperate to escape her boring and stifling existence under the loving but entirely overbearing presence of her beauty pageant-pushing mother (the excellent Marcia Gay Harden). A true case of the misunderstood rebel, she is blighted by her deeply uninspiring surroundings and trudges through life serving ribs and oversized burgers to boneheaded bozos in the local “Oink Joint” while wondering where she really belongs in the world.
However, following a chance encounter with a few of the empowered local roller derby girls, Bliss’ perception of what’s within arms reach takes a turn for the sunny side. Unearthed Barbie skates acting as a catalyst, she embarks on a shrouded journey of self discovery as she tries out for, is accepted into and becomes an indispensable member of local underdog team The Hurl Scouts. Henceforth Barrymore really flexes her newfound directorial muscle, conducting no holds barred, visceral action scenes round the roller derby track while adding depth and tension to Bliss’ increasingly strained double life as bad-ass roller derby dudette, Babe Ruthless.
You’ll be forever wishing you’d discovered the savagely joyous delights of roller derby earlier.
That said, the film is not without its faults. The central storyline follows a predictable sports dramedy structure with a testing central protagonist/antagonist relationship, tumultuous love interest and “will it, won’t it?” ending all present and correct. In addition, although the running time extends marginally longer than it should to successfully conclude the well crafted character and relationship arcs, the sharp side of an unfortunate double edged sword comes perilously close as a result.
Irrespective, Whip It manages to successfully transcend these small quibbles on the strength of its brutally entertaining, unique and refreshing subject matter, a well-penned script and solid performances all round. Be sure of this: once you have experienced Whip It you’ll be forever wishing you’d discovered the savagely joyous delights of roller derby earlier and in serious repetitive strain territory as you coarse the internet trying to find the nearest meet. An enjoyable treat that’ll have you rolling out of the cinema experiencing a mild sense of deja vu but ultimately feeling rewarded for your investment.