Toronto 2009 Review: Drew Barrymore's Whip It
by Alex Billington
September 20, 2009
My first introduction to the world of roller derby and thankfully there was no painful initiation. Whip It is no masterpiece, but for the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore, it's pretty damn good. I'm looking forward to whatever she directs next, but for her debut behind the camera, I was considerably impressed. As for her stars, Ellen Page has never looked better on roller skates, and Alia Shawkat has never been funnier. It's a sweet, charming, occasionally humorous, and fun little southern film, but it doesn't hit as hard as the girls in the derby do. I wanted to love it but just couldn't. There's just not enough to appreciate, I guess.
Whip It tells the story of Bliss Cavendar (Page), who lives in a small town outside of Austin. Her mom (Marcia Gay Harden) keeps putting her in beauty pageants but that's not her calling and she knows it. One day while shopping in Austin, some roller derby chics stop by the store she's at. The next day she pulls out her Barbie roller skates and tries out for the local league of five teams. She makes it onto the Hurl Scouts, the worst team in the league, and it becomes an underdog story about going for the gold. Well, it becomes a story about friends and finding the path in life you want to take, even if your mother doesn't approve.
While Whip It is fun, it's got some issues, mainly with its script. It was written by Shauna Cross, a derby girl herself, who also wrote the novel that it's based on. She's a writing newbie, but unlike someone such as Diablo Cody, isn't exactly the most experienced screenwriter. It also never delves deep enough into the sport side of things. Sure we get to see a few matches, including almost all of the final match, but we don't learn too many of the rules, only the basics and that's it. Even when their coach whips up a playbook and puts it to use on the track, we never get any fun explanations, just a short scene showing it in use. It felt like there could've been more, especially considering the film made me curious to learn about the actual sport.
Overall I was impressed with Whip It and I enjoyed it. Barrymore isn't a strong point (in front of or behind the camera), but Ellen Page and her sidekick Pash (played by Alia Shawkat) are, along with the derby girls, including Kristen Wiig, Zoe Bell, and Juliette Lewis. If you go in pretty much expecting Mighty Ducks but on roller skates with a bunch of punk chics, you won't be disappointed. But don't expect more than that. Sure it's a bit typical, sure you may see some of the plot points coming a mile away, but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy it. At least I had a good time, and that's what counts the most when I'm watching movies.
Toronto Rating: 7 out of 10