Whip It


Whip It

Ellen Page flies around the track, hoping her Juno reputation isn't following her.

(Fox Searchlight) Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis, Drew Barrymore, Jimmy Fallon, Daniel Stern, Eve, Alia Shawkat, Zoe Bell. Directed by Drew Barrymore

The movies have had a love-hate relationship with the roller derby. A number of fine documentaries have been made on the subject of the skaters and their passion for this sport that many dismiss as pro wrestling on wheels (and those that do are ignorant of how physically taxing it is) dating back forty years, but few feature films have captured that world.

Bliss Cavendar (Page) lives in a tiny Texas town outside of the state capital of Austin and like many trapped in tiny Texas towns knows that there are two things expected of those being raised there; that the boys will love football and try out for the team, and the girls will love cheerleading and enter into beauty pageants, which is what Bliss’ hyperthyroid mom (Harden) is pushing her into. Bliss despises it and despises what she is expected to conform into being. She and her friend Pash (Shawkat) are octagonal pegs in rhomboidal holes.

Then, while on a trip to Austin, Bliss spies a flyer for a female roller derby event, and thinking it might be fun, convinces Pash to attend with her. Bliss realizes that this is something that speaks to her, watching girls beat the crap out of one another while whirling around a banked track. Bliss apparently has some sadomasochistic tendencies deep in her teenaged DNA.

She wrangles a try-out with one of the league’s sad sack teams, the Hurl Scouts (so named because they dress like girl scouts…all the teams have gimmicks like that) and to her surprise, she makes the team. She adopts the skater persona of Babe Ruthless (and yes, these are the kinds of names the real skaters take) and quickly becomes a break-out star in the league. She also finds kindred spirits in fellow skaters Smashley Simpson (Barrymore) and Maggie Mayhem (Wiig), as well as a surly rival in Iron Maven (Lewis) who skates for another team, the high and mighty High Rollers.

Of course, the manure hits the fan when mommy finds out and while her henpecked dad (Stern) is all for it, her mom forbids her lil’ angel from competing in a sport where she actually might get…bruised. You see, she neglected to tell her team she’s underaged, a major no-no. With a big match coming up and the clutches of conformity reaching out to grab her, Bliss has to make up her mind to decide to be what others expect of her or to find her own way.

Barrymore makes her directorial debut and quite frankly it’s a pretty good one. Like Barrymore herself, the movie has charm, wit and heart, and an excellent indie rock soundtrack. While Barrymore seems to be at home acting in romantic comedies these days, she actually pulls together this coming of age dramedy quite nicely.

It helps that she has a nifty cast to help pull it off. Harden is making a nice niche for herself as the overbearing mom, and she pulls it off without a hitch. Stern, who was a presence in the 80s and 90s and has gone largely MIA of late, is also satisfying as the dad.

The roller derby sequences weren’t a disgrace either; most of the actresses did their own skating and a number of actual skaters play minor roles in the film. You get a sense of the physicality of the sport and the conditioning needed to be any good at it, which sets it above a lot of sports movies these days which rely overly much on treacle to sell their storyline.

There are a few lapses in logic however. For example, the movie is set in Texas but nobody other than Harden seems to have the twang. I guarantee you if you got this many people together in Austin more than one of them would have the distinctive Texas twang. Also, I find it hard to believe that a mom like Harden would have missed the bumps, bruises and cuts that her daughter surely would have after a full-contact sport like roller derby. It doesn’t seem likely to me that Bliss would escape each of the matches without a scratch.

The movie has a fine empowerment message and looks at the sport and those who participate in it with some fondness and even reverence, which is a change from the low regard it is often held in. For my money, this is some superior entertainment that establishes Barrymore as a director with a future, and adds a little depth to Page’s resume as well.

WHY RENT THIS: The girl empowerment theme is done nicely. Page and her skating cohorts are believable in the derby sequences.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not enough Texas twang here, as well as other lapses in logic.

FAMILY VALUES: Some of the language is on the crude side there are certainly some sexual situations and drug usage but mild enough that most teens should be okay to see this, although the more impressionable sorts should get a long look before putting this in the DVD/Blu-Ray player.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Writer Shauna Cross was once a real-life skater in the Los Angeles Derby Dolls and took several of the character names, team names and backstage plot lines were taken from her experiences there.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Perhaps owing to the movie’s disappointing box office receipts, there is a dearth of interesting features here; however, a Fox Movie Channel “Writer’s Draft” series on screenwriter Shauna Cross is a welcome addition.

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $16.6M on a $15M production budget; the movie was a flop.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole

For those interested in the real thing, the TXRD website (the league depicted in the film) is here.

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New Releases for the Week of October 2, 2009


Ricky Gervais is bummed because his cardboard box clashes with his suit.

Ricky Gervais is bummed because his cardboard box clashes with his suit.

THE INVENTION OF LYING

(Warner Brother) Ricky Gervais, Jennifer Garner, Rob Lowe, Jonah Hill, Louis C.K., Tina Fey, Jeffrey Tambor, Fionnula Flanagan. Directed by Ricky Gervais and Matt Robinson

In an alternate universe, it hasn’t occurred to anybody to lie. People just let loose with the truth whenever they speak. For Mark, the truth is pretty painful; he’s unattractive to women, not popular in his job where he is about to be canned and generally unhappy with his reality. When he discovers that he can say something that isn’t the truth and have it be believed, his reality changes. However, as lies are wont to do, they begin to spiral out of control until he discovers that he has everything he ever dreamed of, but not what he wants the most.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for language including some sexual material and a drug reference)

Amreeka

(National Geographic) Nisreen Faour, Melkar Muallem, Hiam Abbass, Alia Shawkat. A Palestinian woman living in the occupied West Bank wins a lottery for a U.S. Green Card and decides to take her teenage son with her to “Amreeka,” as they pronounce America, leaving her mother and brother behind. Once there, she encounters prejudice and economic instability, trying to make ends meet in a world just as harsh in many ways as the one she left behind.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for brief drug use involving teens, and some language)

The Other Man

(Image Entertainment) Liam Neeson, Antonio Banderas, Laura Linney, Amanda Drew. When Peter’s wife disappears, he is devastated. When he finds out she was receiving e-mails and text messages from another man that indicate she was having an affair, his emotion turns to hurt and anger. Against the advice of his daughter, he goes to Milan to confront the other man and, hopefully, find his wife.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for some sexuality/nudity and language)

Toy Story/Toy Story 2

(Disney/Pixar) Starring the voices of Tim Allen, Tom Hanks, Don Rickles, Wallace Shawn. The two movies that essentially created the CGI Animated Feature industry (which today rakes in billions of box office dollars) are being re-released as a double feature, together for the first time. On top of that, see Woody, Buzz, Rex and all your favorites in 3D, adding a whole new dimension to what has become a family favorite for more than one generation now. Also, get a special glimpse at next year’s Toy Story 3 which is one of the most anticipated movies in 2010. This will be playing for a limited engagement of only two weeks, so don’t wait too long to get to the multiplex!

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: G

Whip It

(Fox Searchlight) Ellen Page, Drew Barrymore, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig. When a Texas girl gives up beauty pageants for the siren call of roller derby, folks are going to raise a Texas-sized eyebrow at the very least. The directorial debut of Barrymore has a young girl pursuing her dream, despite the disapproval of those closest to her and the derision of the skaters who think of her as a bit of a pansy. Now, if they could have only gotten a cameo from Raquel Welch in her Kansas City Bomber jersey…

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: PG-13 (for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material)

Zombieland

(Columbia) Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Abigail Breslin, Emma Stone. The world has been overrun by zombies. Don’t you just hate when that happens? So do the survivors; Tallahassee, a kicker of zombie tush and Columbus, who much prefers running away and hiding, preferably with a girlish scream. With the living in short supply, these two misfits will have to fight off armies of the rampaging undead – and each other – in order to survive.

See the trailer here.

For more on the movie this is the website.

Rating: R (for zombie horror violence/gore and language)