Today: February 20, 2024

Whip It! Cinema

There is a reason Ellen Page keeps getting put in a role like this. This is not some post Disney
channel tween secretly hiding a D cup and an Abercrombie boyfriend,
this is an intelligent, quick-witted girl who you actually want to root
for and not quietly hurt. But then Whip It!, the directorial debut from
Drew Barrymore, is not your average alternative sports tale.

There is definitely some muscle behind it, but here it is covered in
pin-up girl tattoos and barely concealed by some pretty imaginative
uniforms. That isn’t to say that this is not a big cliché of an
underdog’s story, but Whip It! is undeniably and unashamedly good fun.

Page takes the helm of this girl-bashing girl journey of discovery as
Bliss Cavendar, a quiet teen that enjoys mocking the MTV generation and
wearing boy’s clothes. Her mother enters her into pageants to make her a
more wholesome, but shockingly the pearls and debutants just aint
Bliss, and all seems a little lost until three girls in dresses and
roller skates swoop into her life and drop a leaflet into her despairing

It may be Barrymore’s first time behind the camera but she
grasps the gritty unchoreographed battle of roller derby perfectly over a
bed of trashy rock songs. She also does well at capturing an, albeit
catty but strong relationship, between Bliss and her teammates. Names
like Iron Maven and Smashly Simpson hardly shout best-friends-forever
but surprisingly there is a dependency amongst these girls and you can
see the appeal of wanting to be their mates.

The script is a mix of predictable prep talks interspersed with
Page’s signature dry humour and pop culture references. But the
conversations between Bliss and mom Brooke (Harden) show an honest and
conflicting relationship between mother and daughter, and whereas most
teen films would post the oppressive parent in a bad light Whip It! does
well to show the struggles of an aging pageant queen turned mailwoman who genuinely wants the best for her kid.

A film with heart then, but not forgetting Whip It! is cool as. The concept of roller derby is not an elegant one;
there’s not much by way of rules and the whole race feels like a clumsy
scrabble to the finish with a good excuse to punch other girls in the
face (Barrymore, who also appears in the film takes a broken nose for
the team early on.)

The players have baseball card cult status and all bring a bit of crazy to the table,
all the while in the ring maintaining the sort of rock star poise that
makes winner, even when the majority of the time they’re not. Even out
of the skates, Bliss’s growing relationship with musician Oliver looks
like an album cover. Obviously things have to go sour at some point so
Bliss can redeem herself, and although you can see this coming you’ll be
surprised at how little you sympathise for her. This could be because
the relationships that have formed over the course of this story come
from such a sincere place underneath the knee pads and the pageant
dresses that you just wish Bliss would sort herself out already and do
the right thing.

At face value Whip It! Reads like a grungy fairytale; small
town girl looks for a way out from her overbearing mother and finds
friendship in a slightly unhinged group of new friends with a passion
for contained violence. A bit beneath that there’s a proper story about
self-discovery and relationships. Essentially though, Barrymore and Page
deliver a new take on old fashioned dirty sportsmanship with the sort
of edge and heart that let’s be honest, only girls can do.

Beth Webb - Events Editor

I aim to bring you a round up of the best film events in the UK, no matter where you are or what your preference. For live coverage of events across London, follow @FilmJuice

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