Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Drew, you go on and Whip It, grrrl

Roller Derby? No thanks. But wait! Drew Barrymore directorial debut AND Juliette Lewis is in it?? Hang on. Ask me again.

Whip It, despite the fact that the film follows a traditional narrative formula as a typical 'coming of age' dram-edy, manages to tow the Hollywood line but with an unlady-like crispiness. Rural Texas debutant pageants just just don't float Bliss's boat, so she becomes Babe Ruthless, queen of the 'whip' at the Austin roller derby, despite being underage, lying to her parentals and eventually alienating her nearest and dearest. It all works out nice and neat and clean in the end, but not before getting in a few riot grrrrl jibby-jabs.
Despite being formulaic, Whip It is certainly a story I haven't heard before. Roller Derby in Texas would not have been enough to get me excited. What impressed me was the honesty of some of the narrative choices, and the feminist-for-a-new-era quality of several plot points. For example, a film of this kind, centering on a female lead, generally comes to a well rounded, feel-good climax by some sicko interpretation of classic Disney narratives. Prince Charming enters the scene and somehow everything works out fine and dandy, all of her wishes become reality, and angst bleeds away into candy-crap fulfillment. Either that or dem' other bitches sabotage our heroine to a degree of greater suffering, which she and her Prince then overcome together (how nice). Whip It, however, is having none of that watered-down over-indulged fairytale Prince shit. While Bliss does have a love interest, its not the approval of this man who saves the day. In fact he provides an opportunity for her to say "I'm better than this. Get lost ya' loser". And instead of being a story of female rivalry in which one bitch devourers another, it becomes a caustic little female bonding film. There does exist a rivalry between squeaky Ellen Page and the seriously bad-ass Juiliette Lewis, aka Iron Maven, but as Iron says "I don't wanna beat you with rumors, I wanna beat you on the track with ma' skates".
Drew Barrymore has made a worthwhile Indy-rock n roller-Derby film. But, unlike Indy's that go all the way down the feelin'-bad-just-like-real-life-do scale, the brilliant screenplay leaves ample room for feelin' nice and cheery when the credits roll.

1 comment:

  1. I love your review-- I thought this was a unique twist on the usual story as well. This was an entirely new setting for me since I had no idea what roller derby was before watching, but I really liked the quirky atmosphere the sport seemed to create.

    I thought Ellen Page's character's rejection of the emo guy with the greasy hair who couldn't even commit to a phone call when he went on his road trip was a wonderful illustration of the value her character places on commitment and drive, something she most clearly demonstrated in her relentless rollerskate practices and sneaky trips out on the long bus ride to practice.

    I don't remember being committed to anything that much when I was in high school and I think the trait she displays is admirable and well worth demonstrating to anyone who contributes to the self-fulfilling prophetic image of the lazy, apathetic teen. Well played Ms. Barrymore.