Sunday, April 18, 2010

Whip It (2009)

The most interesting thing about Drew Barrymore's passable directorial debut is its title: I'm still unsure as to what we're supposed to whip here. Maybe the answer is in the book? Perhaps, but don't count on me reading it any time soon.

Whip It is not that good, but it's not terrible either. It occupies that safe spot where its quirkiness never outshines its mundane story. It is also, perhaps to its detriment, not really funny. That is the biggest issue.

Ellen Page plays Bliss Cavendar (one of the many priceless names in the film) - a high-school girl, living in a small Texas town and working in a pork-rib joint. Stop yawning. Her mother (a fantastic Marcia Gay Harden) is obsessed with her two girls following in her footsteps and win local beauty pageants, which will lead to a good marriage, an Ivy League school and other earthly riches. Bliss makes sure to remind her mom that she ended up with Daniel Stern - a goody-good husband, with not a lot of money, and an extracurricular activity of watching Texas games in a van.

Bliss needs to leave this town, she wants to explore. To her luck, she comes across a flyer for a Roller Derby in Austin and she leaves town (under the guise of watching her high school team's varsity game, hence gaining instant approval from Dad) with her best friend. They LOVE it. She is so in love with this sport and has a real knack for it. She goes to the tryouts and joins the worst team in the league. I think you can pretty much deduce what happens afterward.

Shauna Cross's script (adapted from her own novel) uses every sports-film, fish-out-of-water, coming-of-age, chick-flick cliche available at its disposal: there is a training montage, the perfect boyfriend (who may not be that perfect), a wiser and older teammate who shows her the real moral of the story, a nemesis in another team who will respect our heroine's efforts in the end, etc etc.

Is it all formulaic? Well, yeah. But there are some shining lights: Kristen Wiig is great (that is a given nowadays), Andrew Wilson's coach Razor is a cringe-inducing loser that should have been in "The Office", and the names of course: Rosa Sparks, the Manson Sisters, Eva Destruction, Iron Maven ... the list goes on.  Ellen Page can still pull off a teenager, but her slightly arrogant shtick that she so effortlessly employed in Juno is getting a little tired these days. All in all, Whip It is an enjoyable film with a lot of holes, but a good first step for Drew Barrymore who may yet to show her true potential as a burgeoning filmmaker.

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