For her directorial debut, actress Drew Barrymore (“He’s Just Not That Into You”) has chosen just the right vehicle.
Like the actress, “Whip It” is playful, lighthearted and refuses to take itself too seriously. At the same time, the story champions the cause of feminine empowerment.
Ellen Page (“Juno”) plays Bliss Cavendar, a 17-year-old high school student living in the small town of Bodeen, Texas. Although she has the repressed spirit of a rebel, Bliss reluctantly competes in local beauty pageants at the behest of her mother (Marcia Gaye Harden from “Into the Wild”).
Working at the local diner with her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat from TV’s “Arrested Development”), Bliss longs for something more…but doesn’t know just what.
One night when she and Pash make a trip to Austin, Bliss discovers female roller derby! There’s something about this tough, over-the-top sport that captures her imagination and she becomes obsessed with the strong but likable women who compete.
She’s especially drawn to the Hurl Scouts, a team that consists of women who’ve given themselves names like Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell from “Grindhouse”), Smashley Simpson (Barrymore), Rosa Sparks (Eve from TV’s “Glee”) and Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig from “Extract”).
Bliss lies about her age and tries out for the team. Although she’s small, she’s speedy and the team’s manager Razor (Andrew Wilson, the brother of Owen and Luke) decides to give her a shot. She loves the rough-and-tumble sport and discovers the kind of camaraderie her life has been missing. Plus, she finds more fulfillment zipping around the rink than strutting down the runway.
To make things even better, she meets and starts dating a handsome indie rocker named Oliver, played by handsome indie rocker Landon Pigg.
But, of course, it wouldn’t be a movie without conflict. Bliss manages to make enemies with Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis from “Catch & Release”) from a rival team. On top of that, she’s had to deceive her parents and make up stories about how she’s spending her time and where all of those bruises came from.
Things come to a head when the roller derby championship match comes on the same night as one of the season’s most important beauty pageants.
There’s noting remotely original in the screenplay by Shauna Cross, a player for the Los Angeles Derby Dolls. Same goes for Barrymore’s direction.
But the movie has an infectious, buoyant spirit that seems to be channeled by Barrymore herself. “Whip It” is sunny, cheerful and self-deprecating. (PG-13) Rating: ***
* Avoid at all costs
** Only if you're bored
*** Good movie
**** Well worth your time
***** Be sure to see it