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Whip It Review

Whip it posterDrew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It isn’t compelling or engaging enough to call it a successful drama and it’s just not funny enough to be labeled a winning comedy. I’ll call it a watchable time killer that misfires more than it hits. Despite the fact that its star Ellen Page (Juno) continues to be a winning big screen talent, the film never takes off and it’s somewhat uneven tone and underwritten characters left me disappointed. I hate to say this because I really wanted to love this movie.

The story is adapted from a semi-autobiographical novel titled Derby Girl by Shauna Cross. She also penned the screenplay which tells the story of Page’s character, Bliss Cavender. Bliss is a 17-year-old small town waitress who decides to add some excitement to her ho –hum life by ditching the pageant scene her domineering mother (Marcia Gay Harden) has indoctrinated her into to try out for a roller derby circuit. She eventually becomes one of the Hurl Scouts using an alter ego named Babe Ruthless who becomes a mighty mite on skates.

At the end of the day Whip It is about a girl who’s rebelling a against her parents while doing something daring in order to find a deeper meaning in her existence. I loved the device of using the intriguing world of Roller Derby as a launching ground for this story and thought it had unlimited possibilities. Unfortunately, almost all of the potentially interesting characters in this subculture are never fleshed out and are so underwritten they barely register at all. The actual skating scenes also disappoint. They just aren’t overly exciting or funny enough.

A few of the derby girl characters that we meet include Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore), Rosa Spark (Eve) and Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig). There’s also the standard rah rah coach, Razor (Andrew Wilson) whipitand an annoying announcer (Jimmy Fallon) who narrates the matches. While Fallon is good for a laugh or two he actually gets too much screen time so the joke wears thin. Page’s character, Babe, also picks up a nasty rival (Juliette Lewis) who’s more than twice her age, and an indie rock star boyfriend, Oliver (Landon Pigg) who may or may not cheat on her when he goes off on tour. An extended sequence where the two share a kiss underwater at a school pool is quite interesting but director Barrymore’s choice to show Page strip down to her underwear was somewhat off-putting. Page still looks like a very young teen despite actually being 22-years-old doesn’t exactly radiate sexuality.

The film also introduces us to a pair of women referred to as the Manson sisters, an obvious riff on the Hanson brothers of Slapshot fame but they have nothing to do, don’t speak and are one of the movies most wasted opportunities. Zoe Bell (Death Proof) is completely wasted as a tough girl from New Zealand with virtually no screen time and singer Eve doesn’t fair much better. This really speaks volumes about the sloppiness of the script.

One person who does impact the movie is Daniel Stern (Home Alone) who shines in his scenes as Page’s laid back, loving father. The dialogue between the two is authentic and at times quite moving. This is a part of the film that really does work and I wished his character played an even bigger part in the finished product, but maybe that’s just because so much else doesn’t work.

Overall Whip It remains watchable for Page who holds the screen with the best of them. Barrymore also interjects some heart in the last act which left me feeling good in its closing moments. I only wish more time was used to flesh out the supporting characters in the crazy roller derby world which really could have made this a memorable movie. 2.5 zombies out of 5

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October 6, 2009 - Posted by | Reviews | , ,

1 Comment »

  1. It’s not a surprise that this would be an average effort considering Barrymore’s background in largely commercial fare. At the same time, perhaps she will come to take more risks as an auteur as things come down the line.
    The Rake
    http://thefilmnest.com

    Comment by thebsk | October 12, 2009 | Reply


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