Title: Whip It (2009)
Director: Drew Barrymore
Writer: Shauna Cross, based on her book Derby Girl
Starring: Drew Barrymore, Ellen Page, Marica Gay Harden, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Eve, Zoe Bell, Bruce Dern
Kathryn Bigelow, Penelope Spheeris, Amy Heckerling, Sofia Coppola, Sarah Polly, Asia Argento, Nora Ephron, Jodie Foster, Rachel Talalay. What do these names have in common? They are all women. Some of them are actors…and all of them are film directors! 2010 proved to be quite a year for the female director. Kathryn Bigelow, the director of The Hurt Locker (2009) swept the Oscars, taking home two of the most coveted awards, best film of the year, and more importantly, director of the year. This was an important win not only for Bigelow as a director, but for Bigelow as a woman. No woman had won the best director award before; this was a historical first for women and the film community in general.
Drew Barrymore being her own hero
And The Hurt Locker certainly deserved it! It was a great war film. Bigelow had the guts to go and film this movie on freaking location in Jordan, East Asia! But going back to Bigelow’s win as best director, I was personally extremely glad she got it because the film industry is an industry dominated mostly by males. And it shouldn’t be that way. Art needs to have equal representation from both male and females. They each have their own unique way of seeing things. A film made by a woman can be instantly recognizable and set apart from films directed by men. Case in point: Whip It, actress/producer and now director Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut.
Whip It is the story of Bliss Cavendar a teenager who doesn’t exactly know what she wants to do with her life. She is still a teenager, still in school, but she is looking for something that fills her up, something better then the beauty pageants that her mother makes her participate in. Bliss is looking for excitement and speed. Soon, while buying some clothes in a store, she bumps into two roller girls who are passing out flyers for their upcoming roller derby game. Bliss attends the game, she likes what she sees and before you know it she’s participating in the try outs for the team. Will Bliss’s tight ass mom allow her to participate? Will she try to control Bliss’s life? Or will Bliss make up her own mind about things?
So basically, this is one of those movies in which the character is fighting to stay true to herself, stay true to what she loves and makes her happy. The 80’s were filled with movies with a similar theme to this one, where the parents are stuck up tight asses, and the upcoming youngster wants to go against that. The parents want to decide and control the young person’s life, and the youngster will have none of that. Sorry mom and dad, but its time I did things my own way, you’ll survive don’t worry! Ill pay for my wins and looses along the way! It’s my life after all, not yours. I remember Tom Cruise playing a similar role in Risky Business (1983). Breakin’ and Footloose ( both released in 1984) played along with these themes as well. So you can add Whip It to that list of movies, where teenagers say “hell no!” to parents manipulating their lives.
The thing about Whip It is that it didn’t commit the same mistake that a lot of 80’s films of this kind made. The films from the 80’s always made the parents out to be ‘villains’ whom the teenagers always out smarted and ended up making fun off and disrespecting. On this film Marcia Gay Harden plays the role of the uptight mom who wants to control every step that Bliss takes. She is kind of hateful through out the film, trying to make Bliss become the next beauty queen U.S.A., but we also get to see why she feels this way, where she is coming from and why she feels the way she does. Bliss does lie to her at one point to do what she loves (Roller derby!) but then she comes clean and is honest with her mother, explaining to her that this is what she wants to do now, and that it’s an important part of her life. That even though she is not doing what her mom wants her to do with her life, she still loves, admires and respects her for everything she has done for her. The father, played by Bruce Dern is kind of like the middle ground, he loves his daughter to death, but at the same time, its daughter vs. daughter at one point, and he is stuck in the middle. He plays the role of the understanding father, who tries to make mom understand that this is more than just a game for their daughter. She means to take Roller Derby seriously!
Speaking of the game, my hats go down to Drew Barrymore for directing the Roller derby sequences with such aplomb. I mean, when the game gets going, and things start to heat up between the two Roller Derby teams, the camera is right smack in the middle of the action. I liked how Barrymore directed the action sequences, getting in there with the girls. You almost feel as if you are wearing your own pair of skates, going along with the girls. The girls by the way, are a tough group of chicks. Tomboyish and rough in nature, yet retaining their sexiness, amplifying their hotness by ten fold! By the way, all you guys out there, these girls skate on mini skirts. Just sayin’.
Some of the scenes in which the Hurl Scouts (as the girls Derby team is called) start playing the game were filmed with real life roller derby girls from the Detroit area, so that adds a whole lot of credibility to the action sequences. The cast of actresses playing the Hurl Scouts is composed of a couple of tough chicks like Juliette Lewis, who has a constant mean face on her, she plays the ‘villain’ of the group, though I wouldn’t really call her a villain. She’s just a 36 year old player trying to keep her place in the game. She adds a level of competitiveness to the game. Real life stunt woman Zoe Bell, who is best known for doing stunts on Quentin Tarantino movies (she doubled for Uma Thurman in Kill Bill and played one of the main characters in Death Proof), plays one of the tough as nails girls of the team. To be honest, its Ellen Page who doesn’t seem to fit very well in the middle of all the tough babes on this movie. Page has a fragile demeanor, she doesn’t look tomboyish or rough at all, but that actually works in favor of the film, because she goes into the team none the less.
Zoe Belle in action!
This movie is one of those movies were mostly happy things happen. There is not a lot of room for sadness on this one, Page wants to be a part of the team, and she does. Nothing stops her, it’s like she drops everything to do what she loves, and she makes it. There is a moment around the last half of the movie where its non stop happiness going on, everything works for everybody, and everyone ends up happy. Drew Barrymore was certainly shooting for a film with a positive light vibe to it, and she achieved it. Though that doesn’t mean the girls win the #1 spot like in every other sports film. I enjoyed the fact that this movie promotes the happiness of “being number 2”, cause coming in second place is just as great.
Rating: 3 ½ out of 5
Director and Actress getting close and personal