04 October 2009

Review: "Whip It"

Drew Barrymore, at only 34, has been starring in films for longer than I have been alive. She has come so far in recent years that her so-called rebellious adolescent years no longer taint her star power. She has starred in a number of very enjoyable films (E.T., Never Been Kissed, and of course one of my favourite films, Everyone Says I Love You), and after a number of years acting as a producer, she has finally transitioned to director. It is a film that straddles two genres: the light-hearted coming-of-age teenage film and the aggressive sports film. Barrymore definitely finds her own niche right in the middle and has created a film that is as touching as it is enjoyable. Roller derby is not a sport that is well known and Whip It showcases the excitement and the women of this contact sport. Whip It is definitely a girl power movie. For her directorial debut, Barrymore has cast a handful of strong actresses: Ellen Page continues to show she is an actress beyond her years, Kristin Wiig and Zoe Bell are delightfully hilarious in supporting roles, and Marcia Gay Harden is wonderful as an overbearing mother. The film, set in Austin, Texas and its suburbs, is about finding that one thing you are really great at and not letting anything stop you. This is something we can all relate to.

Ellen Page stars as Bliss Cavendar, a high school senior whose mother (Marcia Gay Harden) insists that she compete in beauty pageants. Bliss has never enjoyed these pageants and only competes because she has no other passions. This all changes on day, when shopping in Austin, she finds a flyer for a roller derby exhibition. After she and her friend Pash (Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat) sneak off to Austin to see the competition, Bliss falls in love with the sport. She tries out for the team and is given a chance to play for the Hurl Scouts, the league's worst team. With the help of her teammates, Maggie Mayhem (Wiig), Smashley Simpson (Barrymore), Bloody Holly (Bell) and Rosa Sparks (Eve) she becomes more confident and becomes a rising star in the league. Bliss helps the succeed and eventually rival the league's undefeated champions, much to the chagrin of Iron Maven (a superb Juliette Lewis). Bliss' involvement in roller derby is completely unnoticed by her parents, and her mother is eagerly anticipating the Bluebonnet pageant. As Bliss becomes more confident and independent, her desire to compete in beauty pageants wanes as her two lives begin to collide.

Whip It is a lot of fun, even though it follows a predictable formula. Ellen Page is fantastic as Bliss, a teenage girl who wants to please her mother but also wants to find a passion to call her own. As director and producer, Drew Barrymore acts in a much smaller role and lets her fellow actresses own the film. While Whip It will not go down in history as Drew Barrymore's finest film, it is a great first effort and makes me excited for her next project.

My rating: 3 stars out of 4.

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