Drew Barrymore has always been a polarizing figure for me, a woman so inherently likable yet completely co-dependent, everything she does oozing this “why don’t you love me?” mentality. So it was with some trepidation I sat down to watch ‘Whip It’, her directorial debut. Most surprising of all though was that despite everything, it’s a thoroughly enjoyable fair.
Ellen Page plays Bliss Cavendar, a repeat teenage pageant entrant despite her having no interest her. Her mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) sees this as her daughter’s way out of their small town in rural Texas but Bliss has no idea what it is she wants. On a shopping trip to Austin she discovers what it is that’s missing – roller derby. Along with friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) as cover, she tries out and becomes a member of the “Hurl Scouts”, a team happy to be below average but using the captain Maggie Mayhem’s (Kristen Wiig) motto of “be your own hero”, Bliss learns more than she expected.
Barrymore takes on a lot with this script, which deals with teenage love, belonging, sport, comedy, drama amongst other themes and although overall she cannot always control it, her previous experience with production has leant her the ability to give us what she’s good at; light, fluffy entertainment. If you’re looking for a movie about sports, it would perhaps be best to view ‘Any Given Sunday’, or even ‘Alive’ for that matter, the derby itself acting as a means to an end (and a very enjoyable one to watch at that) and vibrant centrepiece.
Page appears to play the same character as does in everything else, the roughish young girl with a heart of gold and again it works to great success but for how much longer she can keep walking out this persona is anyone’s guess. The real stars are the secondary characters such as Wiig, Juliette Lewis, and Jimmy Fallon who inject their comic timing and presence in every scene, dominating compared to the main character. Gay Harden is as she always is projecting a vibrance and warmth where otherwise such a character could get lost in the story.
By no means one of the best movies of the year, Barrymore and her cast manage to create a light and frothy romp where girls in roller-skates rule and we’re brought along for the ride.