×

Whip It

Lively femme-centered ensemble is laced with good-natured hipster kitsch and endearingly goofy girl power.

With:
Bliss Cavendar - Ellen Page Brooke Cavendar - Marcia Gay Harden "Maggie Mayhem" - Kristen Wiig "Smashley Simpson" - Drew Barrymore "Iron Maven" - Juliette Lewis Earl Cavendar - Daniel Stern Oliver - Landon Pigg Pash Amini - Alia Shawkat Coach "Razor" - Andrew Wilson Johnny - Jimmy Fallon "Bloody Holly" - Zoe Bell "Rosa Sparks" - Eve "Eva Destruction" - Ari Graynor

Laced with good-natured hipster kitsch and endearingly goofy girl power, director Drew Barrymore’s roller-derby dramedy, “Whip It,” is a gas. In her contact-sporting debut feature, Barrymore hams it up as injury-prone skater “Smashley Simpson,” but pays equal attention to all players in a lively femme-centered ensemble led by Ellen Page — who, as blooming wallflower Bliss Cavendar (aka “Babe Ruthless”), finally has a role to match her star-making turn in “Juno.” Young females will roll in the aisles, and in general B.O. prospects look zippy for Fox Searchlight’s Oct. 2 release, particularly as the fall track appears overcrowded with weightier opponents.

Faithfully adapting her novel “Derby Girl,” screenwriter Shauna Cross follows the basic rules of the coming-of-age movie, as punk-spirited Texas teen Bliss (Page) yearns to distinguish herself from old-school Mom and Dad (Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern), who have her enrolled in cheesy, “Little Miss Sunshine”-style beauty pageants. When bespectacled Bliss, a waitress in a small-town BBQ joint, happens upon the rough-and-tumble world of women’s roller derby, the discovery liberates not only her but the movie, which likewise finds its true calling on and around the track.

Hiding her age in order to try out for the Hurl Scouts, Bliss displays surprising speed even on her old Barbie skates and lands a coveted spot on the team, despite an initial reluctance to push and shove competitors — the sport’s raison d’etre, particularly for hooting fans.

Though Barrymore isn’t much interested in mapping the spatial complexities of roller-derby action, her shooting of the games — equal parts silly and violent — is plenty visceral for these purposes. What distinguishes “Whip It” from the sports-film pack is the director’s keen focus on the minutiae of team camaraderie, as Bliss learns to body-check opponents and is gradually accepted by her elder Hurl Scouts — tough-as-nails chicks with self-styled Army-green getups and names like “Maggie Mayhem” (Kristen Wiig) and “Bloody Holly” (Zoe Bell, “Death Proof”).

As coach of her own team, Barrymore has assembled a game crew of alt-film all-stars, including d.p. Robert Yeoman (“Rushmore”), editor Dylan Tichenor (“Magnolia”) and ubiquitous music supervisor Randall Poster, whose soundtrack, ranging from the Ramones to the Breeders, matches the fast-rolling action hit for hit. Kevin Kavanaugh’s production design captures working-class Texas marvelously, and Catherine Marie Thomas’ costumes — particularly the skaters’ outfits, from helmets to fishnets — are a hoot.

If “Whip It” seems to push its luck with a near-two-hour running time, it’s a forgivable offense in the context of Barrymore’s palpable desire to make the relationships resolve not just happily, but believably. Up to the climactic championship game (inconveniently held on the night of Mom’s beloved Bluebonnet pageant), the movie’s final third is a comprehensive series of lengthy two-handers between Bliss and various intimates: her intimidating rival (a rad Juliette Lewis), her fave teammate/confidante (Wiig), her overprotective mom, her cheerleading dad, her jealous best friend (Alia Shawkat), and her cute but untrustworthy beau (Landon Pigg). Remarkably, none of these dialogue-heavy scenes takes the easy way out.

Of course, sizable credit for the film’s winning ways belongs to Page, whose performance — complete with her own skating — is one of grit, grace and speed. Acting far less precocious than she did in “Juno” and “Hard Candy,” the young thesp takes a slight and welcome turn toward realism here, while hewing to the fancifully warm tone that is the movie’s defining quality.

As if the emotional weight of a Hurl Scouts food fight weren’t surprising enough, the end credits’ cliched use of comedic bloopers feels downright poignant, as “Whip It” reluctantly takes leave of its lovably butt-kicking heroines — at least until the sequel.

Whip It

Production: A Fox Searchlight Pictures release presented in association with Mandate Pictures of a Vincent Pictures/Flower Films/Rye Road production. Produced by Barry Mendel, Drew Barrymore. Executive producers, Peter Douglas, Nancy Juvonen, Kirsten Smith, Nathan Kahane, Joe Drake, Chris Miller. Co-producers, Nicole Brown, Kelli Konop, Jason Lust, Karyn McCarthy. Directed by Drew Barrymore. Screenplay, Shauna Cross, from her novel "Derby Girl."

Crew: Camera (color, widescreen), Robert Yeoman; editor, Dylan Tichenor; music, the Section Quartet; music supervisor, Randall Poster; production designer, Kevin Kavanaugh; costume designer, Catherine Marie Thomas; set decorator, Meg Everist; sound (Dolby/DTS/SDDS), Whit Norris; supervising sound editor, Christopher Scarabosio; assistant director, Jonathan Watson; casting, Justine Baddeley, Kim Davis-Wagner. Reviewed at AMC Southdale 16, Edina, Minn., Aug. 27, 2009. (In Toronto Film Festival--Special Presentations.) MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 111 MIN.

Cast: Bliss Cavendar - Ellen Page Brooke Cavendar - Marcia Gay Harden "Maggie Mayhem" - Kristen Wiig "Smashley Simpson" - Drew Barrymore "Iron Maven" - Juliette Lewis Earl Cavendar - Daniel Stern Oliver - Landon Pigg Pash Amini - Alia Shawkat Coach "Razor" - Andrew Wilson Johnny - Jimmy Fallon "Bloody Holly" - Zoe Bell "Rosa Sparks" - Eve "Eva Destruction" - Ari Graynor

More Scene

  • Elsie Fisher and Bo Burnham2019 Writers

    Writers Guild Announces 2020 Awards Show Date

    The 72nd Annual Writers Guild Awards will take place in coinciding ceremonies in Los Angeles at the Beverly Hilton and the Edison Ballroom in New York on Feb. 1, the Writers Guild of America announced. The WGA will begin voting in November and will reveal this year’s TV nominees Dec. 5 and film Jan. 6. [...]

  • LGBTQ Film Festival Outfest Opens With

    Outfest Opens With Documentary About Gay Porn Shops Circus of Books

    Granted, the red carpet at the opening night of Outfest in DTLA may not have been the most star-studded but it was without a doubt the most diverse, inclusive and, yes, fabulous. “I’ve never been here before,” admitted “RuPaul’s Drag Race” vet Trixie Mattel, who stars in the documentary “Moving Parts.” “It’s supposed to be [...]

  • Alamo Drafthouse Opens New Downtown Los

    Alamo Drafthouse Storms into L.A. with New Location

    “Cinema is alive and well tonight!” Alamo Drafthouse founder Tim League declared at the theatrical venue’s ribbon-cutting ceremony on Thursday night, where a gathering of 160 employees cheered and sliced into a strip of 35mm film in keeping with the company’s tradition. Despite dire predictions heralding the end of the theater-going experience, League was upbeat [...]

  • America Ferrera'Superstore' TV show photocall, Comic

    America Ferrera Blasts 'Send Her Back' Chant: 'Embarrassing and Shameful'

    America Ferrera has been a longtime political activist who has focused a large part of her work on immigrant rights. She’s now speaking out about the chant of “send her back” targeting Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar that was shouted at a President Donald Trump rally earlier this week. “It’s devastating and shocking and embarrassing and [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content