Monday, October 5, 2009
Host Maureen Cavanaugh and film critics Beth Accomando and Scott Marks talk about Whip It.
Drew Barrymore makes her directorial debut with a girl power roller derby pic called “Whip It” (opened October 2). You can listen to our discussion of the film on last month’s Film Club of the Air.
Well Drew won’t be threatening Coppola or Scorsese just yet but she crafts a likable freshman effort that’s bound to entertain. Ellen Page (of "Juno" and "Hard Candy") is Bliss Cavender, a misfit of sorts in her small Texas town of Bodeen. Her mom (a wonderful Marcia Gay Harden) wants her to be a beauty queen with southern graces. Bliss tries to oblige but deep down she wants something else. She finds that something else quite by accident when she happens upon a women’s roller derby league in Austin.
“Whip It” is a “Rocky-esque” tale combined with a teen coming of age formula. The roller derby setting might lead you to expect something more along the lines of B-movie exploitation but Barrymore instead opts for a sweet story of emerging girl power (not to be confused with feminism, which is more self aware and socially conscious). This is more like girls just wanna have fun. Barrymore even throws in a food fight to show how much fun they are all having on her set. There's a nice sense of camaraderie that develops in the film and it feels like that might have been behind the camera as well.
Like “Juno,” “Whip It” serves up a parent-child relationship in which, despite differences, both sides openly love each other and are making an effort to understand each other. The film doesn’t pretend that it’s an easy relationship but it works a whole lot better when all parties make an effort to communicate and express love and concern for each other.
Page, Harden and Randy Quaid (as the father) are all fine. As the derby girls, Juliette Lewis is perfect as the slightly slutty Iron Maven but stuntwoman and actress Zoe Bell is underused in both departments. As Bliss’ friend, Alia Shawkat shines and displays a well-timed sense of comedy.
Barrymore doesn’t really do much with her roller derby setting. She doesn't make us feel what's special about it and why it might have this power over Bliss. She doesn’t know how to film it with any real flair. Her focus is on the actors and giving them room to have fun.
“Whip It” (rated PG-13 for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material) is fun but not very memorable. It boasts some nice performances and has an appealing message about following your dreams but it doesn’t distinguish itself in any special way. Barrymore doesn't embarrass herself as a director and delivers a competent formula film about -- as the poster says -- being your own hero.
Companion viewing: “Juno,” “Kansas City Bomber,” “Unholy Rollers,” "Slapshot"