Film review by: Witney Seibold
Drew Barrymore’s first directorial effort is not so much a story as it is a fresh, fun, grrrl-power polemic. It cares less about the machinations of modern-day punk-girl roller derby, and more about the feminist tribal aspects of young womanhood that arise when you are allowed into a warm familial clique of girls who are way cooler than you. There are rivalries and there is aggression, but ultimately, there is going to be nothing but friendship, good times, and the realization that your estrogen is a powerful force in the universe bubbling underneath it all.
“Whip It” is cool and fun, and will make you want to get a tattoo and buy a pair of fishnet stockings. Ellen Page, as acerbic as ever, plays the 17-year-old Bliss Cavender, a would-be debutante who is in a constant state of s’motherhood grooming. Mom is played by Marcia Gay Harden. Bliss, however, is not so into the life of pageantry and balls, and prefers Doc Martens, blue hair dye, and punk music. So when a team of roller derby girls place a flyer in her hands one afternoon, Bliss immediately flies into the arms of her alterna-rocker sisterhood to skate, throw punches, get bruises, and shiver the squares. After a few nervous tryouts, Bliss becomes accepted as one of the Hurl Scouts. Her new friends include the Den Mother Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), perpetually injured Smashley Simpson (Barrymore), stuntwoman Bloody Holly (stuntwoman Zoë Bell), and not-so-playful rival Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis).
Will Bliss have to tell her parents? Will it eventually come out that she’s too young to play roller derby? Will her best friend (Alia Shawkat) be able to accept her loving mew life? Will they win the Big Game? Will there be a big dramatic rush at the end of the movie? I think you know the answers to all this.
There are indeed plot complications, and there is indeed the same Big Game we see in any sports movie, but this is less a movie about its story, and more a breezy, freewheeling treatise on modern-day feminism for young girls on the outside. A film about female bonding. Barrymore seems to already be an expert on creating a warm room full of girlhood camaraderie, and peppers her film with parties, food fights, giggling, hugging, and the occasional late-night underwater makeout session with a hot rocker boy. Oh yes, Bliss gets some action from a shaggy musician named Oliver (Landon Pigg), so we also get to see her freedom into sexual liberation as well.
So what chops Barrymore lacks in story and complication, she seems be trying to make up for in warmth and geniality. When it comes to characters, she seems to prefer the stylish over the substantive. I think her film is quick and sweet and fun, and probably good for nascent teen girls looking for an alternative route. It’s also a great way to spend time with roller derby girls, who are probably the coolest people on the planet.