Whip It (2009)

whip it

“Well, put some skates on and be your own hero.”

The Scoop: 2009 PG-13, directed by Drew Barrymore and starring Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat and Marcia Gay Harden

Tagline: Be your own hero

Summary Capsule: A young girl finds small-town beauty pageants aren’t quite her thing, but battling it out as a roller derby girl is the perfect empowering extracurricular for her

Kyle’s rating: Sometimes coloring within the lines is perfectly fine if you’re having as much fun as possible

Kyle’s review: Zombieland and Whip It combined to form a cinematic oasis at the end of my summer: as heat and crappy movies sapped my heart and wallet I persevered knowing (hoping!) that come early October, this dynamic duo would end my suffering with a flurry of witty quips and bloody finishing moves. Quite happily, both films delivered tremendously despite the incredibly hype I placed upon both of them, though both in very different ways than I anticipated.

There is little I can say about Zombieland that Justin didn’t touch upon is his phenomenal review. He’s absolutely right: it’s quite the fist-pumping, happy brain chemicals-stimulant experience to watch, and I can’t imagine anyone not having a pretty good time with the film (and if someone didn’t, I would not care to make their acquaintance). Its glaring flaw is one Whip It shares: neither film has much in the way of story depth (fanatics of both zombies and roller derby girls are certainly free to disagree). The emphasis, therefore, is placed squarely on the characters, where Zombieland excels rather spectacularly.

Whip It is no slouch in the character department, either. Its most potent weapon is the incredible talent Ellen Page brings to every project, though first-time director Drew Barrymore certainly stacks her deck by calling in ten films worth of women usually relegated to ‘quirky sidekick’ or ‘fun & wise best friend’ roles. It reminds me quite a bit of G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra in that regard, where genuinely talented actors were cast in roles that didn’t require any actual acting, so the whole enterprise seemed a lot more textured than it was.

Unfortunately, for the foreseeable future anything Page stars in will be immediately labeled/dismissed as ‘Juno in/on/with/possessed by/etc.;’ Whip It will be known by multitudes who never even bother to see it as ‘Juno on roller skates.’ Which may be for the best, if for them Juno is now merely an object of derision versus a treasured film. It’s not the only way Whip It suffers in comparison to Juno, though I freely admit to remaining adamant that Juno is the coolest. Whip It gets a little bit of slack for being Barrymore’s directorial debut, though that doesn’t excuse the uninspired screenplay (adapted by the source novel’s author, apparently, and sticking to typical sports film formula every step of the way) which seems so familiar because we’ve basically seen it all before. The roller derby angle is fresh, and thankfully never gets overdone, but otherwise it’s just another girl empowerment film, with the usual twists and turns along the way.

I guess the point is that this is a fairly slight piece of entertainment, made infinitely better by Page and Alia Shawkat (treasured Arrested Development alum) in the supportive best friend role, as well as that stacked cast. When you can have Zoe Bell, Eve, Kristen Wiig, Ari Graynor, and more in a film that manages to pull a good performance from even the dreaded Jimmy Fallon, you know you’re in for a good time. If you thought the free-wheelin’, ‘these guys were clearly having fun on location and it shows’ vibe of the Ocean’s Eleven films was a turnoff, the female version on display here won’t win you over. But if you’re looking for a good time with some Juno-lite characters, you could do a lot worse than Whip It!

Oh, I do need to warn you about one thing: while it’s a perfect wrinkle to have Page’s character have to deal with her first love (knowing how wrongly first loves tend to go, and how perfectly motivational such couplings tend to be), casting Landon Pigg as the world’s most annoying and utterly-without-charm young rocker/love interest was either GENIUS casting (because a few minutes with Pigg makes me want to put on skates and beat up people, too) or Drew Barrymore lost some kind of dare and was forced to cast him. Either way, be prepared for unconscious gritting of the teeth whenever he shows up!

Intermission!

  • Ellen Page dropped out of the lead role in Drag Me to Hell to star instead in Whip It
  • The film is based upon the book Derby Girl by real-life derby girl/woman Shauan Cross, who skated with the moniker Maggie Mayhem
  • The Manson Sisters are portrayed by Rachel Piplica and Kristen Adolfi, who both skate for the Los Angeles Derby Dolls with the names Iron Maiven and Krissy Krash, respectively
  • Bliss lies about her age in the film, pretending to be 22 when she is actually 17: Ellen Page is actually 22, pretending to be 17 in the film

Groovy Quotes

Bliss: Has anyone ever thrown up on the track before?
Rosa Sparks & Maggie Mayhem: Yeah.

Snobby Girl: So what, are you all alternative now?
Bliss: Alternative to what?

Bliss: The last time I wore skates, they had Barbies on them.

Hurl Scouts: We’re number two! We’re number two!
Razor: You guys came in second out of two teams.
Hurl Scouts: Woo hoo!
Razor: Yes, let’s celebrate mediocrity.

If You Liked This Movie, Try These:

  • Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist
  • Rollerball
  • Juno

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