WHIP IT ***
BLISS CAVENDER (ELLEN PAGE) is trapped in a world that she has no connection to.
Outwardly she is a typical 17 year old. Her manner is generally quiet and soft spoken.
But a savage streak of rebellion is about to take hold that will change her life forever.
Bliss’ mother BROOKE (MARCIA GAY HARDEN) appears to be a difficult hardliner that will tolerate no opposition. But she and her husband EARL (DANIEL STERN) make their expectations known only out of concern. They genuinely want the best for their daughter.
Though they initially seem authoritarian when they’re first introduced into the mix, as the film unfolds you can understand how much they care. They feel that it’s important to have a united front and let their girls know who’s in charge.
But they’re both considerably more fun loving and hip when they’re alone together – away from the prying eyes of their children.
Brooke has been putting Bliss in beauty pageants for years. Bliss’ younger sister SHANIA (EULALA SCHEEL) is a little princess that loves the surreal falseness of those Barbie type spectaculars.
Bliss feels empty and horrifically bored by it all.
Bliss is a gorgeous girl next door type. But her outward appearance is not of any real importance to her. She’s only doing the pageant circuit to pacify her mother. She’d give her right arm to get the hell out of Bodeen, Texas.
This is certainly not her idea of a stepping stone.
Just before she’s about to walk on stage and sing the praises of the admirable Amelia Earheart, Bliss’ best friend PASH (ALIA SHAWKAT) talks Bliss into dyeing her hair a bright blue.
Brooke is thoroughly unamused.
In the days that follow, Brooke senses Bliss’ remoteness. She suggests a shopping trip in Austin to boost her spirits.
Once there, Bliss finds some shoes that she wants to purchase. When Brooke discovers that the shop is a virtual den of iniquity with a nasty reputation, she protests vigorously.
Bliss buys the shoes while her mother is arguing with her father on the phone. While they happen to be there, some hard core punky girls (tattoos and all) skate into the store and leave a stack of flyers for a roller derby event at the cavernous Austin Warehouse.
Bliss is immediately mesmerized. A short time later she makes an excuse to her parents and gets Pash to accompany her back to Austin to witness the event. Roller derby is tough, harsh, bold, brassy…and an incredible amount of fun.
Bliss bumps into a dreamy boy on the way in. As they prepare to leave, sitting in Pash’s car, Bliss informs her that she wants to go to a try out. She has to be 21. But Bliss doesn’t care. This is something that she simply can’t pass up.
“You haven’t got the balls,” Pash scoffs. Bliss gazes out the window. Straight across the parking lot the dreamy boy smiles shyly at her, then looks away when he sees her glancing at him.
That’s it. Her mind is made up.
Bliss definitely has the stones.
Pash refuses to return to Austin with her. She disagrees with Bliss’ ideas and can’t understand why she feels it’s necessary for her to do this.
So Bliss takes the bus to Austin by herself. She’s ready for her try out.
She makes it. Bliss tells her parents that she’s changing her days of work (she’s a server at the local BBQ joint) so that she can take an SAT class. It’s much easier than attempting to obtain their permission.
She’s sure they’ll say no.
A new world (the likes of which she’s never experienced) opens up to her. Bliss is tiny. But she can skate hard and fast. The exhilaration just fuels her fire. She loves every moment she’s out there.
She joins THE HURL SCOUTS and is dubbed BABE RUTHLESS. BLISS CAVENDER has finally found her calling at last.
Her teammates include MAGGIE MAYHEM (KRISTEN WIIG), ROSA SPARKS (EVE) and SMASHLEY SIMPSON (the esteemed director of this film).
Their coach is a throwback from the 70s. RAZOR McGEE (ANDREW WILSON – the brother of OWEN and LUKE) drives a dune buggy, wears jean shorts and has scruffy blond streaked hair that looks like it came from a dead animal.
He’s actually a decent guy. (Though he looks suspiciously like a burn out.) Razor is inclined to be critical of the women he coaches. But he really has a great affection for all of them.
The other team that opposes Bliss’ is called THE HOLY ROLLERS. They’re headed by the diabolical IRON MAVEN (the raucously electric JULIETTE LEWIS). She is threatened by the brilliant newcomer and is determined to cut her down regardless of the obstacles involved.
In the course of this world class passion, Bliss becomes acquainted with the dreamboat OLIVER (LANDON PIGG).
Every girl of a certain age has had an Oliver in her life.
He’s the boy that you shag in your parents’ basement when they’re out of town, the guy that you deliberately avoid because you’re too nervous to talk to him in class or the precious young man that gives you butterflies every time you see him.
Sometimes all three in one year…
Oliver is tall, slender, has tousled sandy locks, a killer smile and great eyes.
He also sings in a band.
Sensory overload awaits.
Between her relationship and the outlet that she has for her existential teenage angst, Bliss is feeling contented and confident.
But her ecstacy appears to be short lived.
If her parents find out about her extracurricular activities, she will be in serious trouble. If anyone in the league hears that she’s really 17, there will be an equal amount of hell to pay. Bliss discovers that the pageant that she promised her mother that she’d attend is the same evening as the roller derby championships.
Oliver’s band is going away on tour and he seems strangely nonchalant and hard to reach on an emotional level.
Bliss is starting to feel like everything she cares about is slipping away – completely out of her control. She begins to wonder if she overstepped her bounds in her eagerness to find herself and be independent.
SHAUNA CROSS’ script is an adaptation of her novel DERBY GIRL. She was a former skater with the LOS ANGELES DERBY DOLLS. Her writing is sharp, realistic and wickedly funny.
Ms. Cross has a solid comprehension of the mother/daughter dynamic. Those scenes are exquisitely drawn.
The great bombastic soundtrack includes songs from BLUR, THE BREEDERS, PEACHES, .38 SPECIAL and a cover of THE ASSOCIATION’S NEVER MY LOVE over the end credits.
The actors are in top form across the board. They are all authentic looking athletes as well. It certainly appears as if they did their own stunts. Even if it didn’t happen that way.
ALIA SHAWKAT is a real find with great promise. KRISTEN WIIG is a marvelous standout. JULIETTE LEWIS may be a superb singer but she should never walk away from her film career. She plays every girl’s reckless nightmare in wonderfully flamboyant fashion and goes to the wall with it.
ELLEN PAGE is remarkable. She will have everything that she wants in terms of an artistic future. It’s only a matter of time.
She has the kind of star quality that is exceptionally rare. Her performances in HARD CANDY and JUNO were obviously only the beginning.
Bliss is introspective, thoughtful and more outwardly tranquil than the other characters she’s portrayed. Ellen has powerful charisma.
You can not look away. She’s fabulous.
DREW BARRYMORE is a fine actor particularly suited to comedies. But here she really comes into her own. Her directorial debut is strong and accomplished.
Romantic sequences have been done to death. You can’t reinvent the wheel at this particular juncture. But Drew nearly does the impossible.
There are a series of scenes that leave no doubt in your mind that Bliss had her first full blown consummated experience with Oliver. But yet nothing overt or explicit is ever shown.
It’s just beautiful, rapturous, enveloping poetry. Their romance is taken to lofty mythologized heights.
You certainly don’t expect that kind of lovely languid swoon worthy sweetness in a movie about tough determined chicks who tear up the rink twice a week just for fun. But Drew is equally at ease with the performers and the ubiquitous action scenes.
Her versatility is astonishing. There were many different facets that needed to be integrated and they all flow together magnificently.
WHIP IT is a real achievement. This could easily have been a nonsensical moronic comedy about girl power with no depth or discernable layers to it.
Instead, it’s the moving (and hilarious) story of a young woman and how she finds her place in the world. She does it entirely without the influence of her family or the guy that she’s involved with.
And it’s all about her – her dreams, her goals, her wishes and desires.
Ms. Barrymore is part of a legendary theatrical and motion picture family. This is a thoroughly splendid first effort that showcases her immense gifts as a filmmaker. It will be extremely interesting to see what she has in store as the years roll by.
Absolutely can not wait for that…