D: Drew Barrymore. DP: Robert D. Yeoman. W: Shauna Cross (based off her novel). Starring: Ellen Page/Kristen Wiig/Alia Shawkat/Marcia Gay Harden/Drew Barrymore/Jimmy Fallon/Juliette Lewis/Landon Pigg/Eve/Zoe Bell/Ari Graynor/Daniel Stern.
Well, let’s face it. When you live in a small town, all that exists is football and beauty pageants, right? Oh yes, and don’t forget mommy issues! Well, at least, according to the movies…
Whip It, the newest “hip” young indie film to hit theaters leaves much to be desired and yes, whipped, as the film has little to offer other than a refreshing premise, cute details, and girls in roller skates. The film is only all that it claims and appears to be: a sweet coming of age story where the non-typical girl finds her stride, a boy, stands up to her parents, and yes, finds herself. But, at least it has a clever sheen? Sadly, no. Unfortunately, Whip It never hits its stride and oftentimes drags along despite high speed and female fun time at the roller derby.
With of course, ever endearing Miss Page stepping up to the role of Bliss, a girl who evokes as much sweetness as her name suggests. Yet Page seems all too easy in this role as she shimmies along being the wallflower with the usual secret spice and personality. One has to wonder where her career is headed as her ethereal youth will eventually pigeon-hole her, if it hasn’t already, into the Juno-esq roles that won’t lead to stardom, but rather to trapped genre talent (a la Molly Ringwald).
Yet her cohorts work hard to not appear trapped, with Wiig’s Maggie Mayhem (and other derby members) donning fake tattoos and skimpy outfits that don’t actually hide their similar vocal delivery. But then again, what isn’t broken doesn’t need to be fixed? No, but it would be refreshing to see and hear something out-of-bounds from these strong female actors. Harden ends up on top in this respect, delivering Bliss’ mother’s role with as much uncertainty, stubbornness, and vulnerability as her cigarette secret.
Helming this slowness is Barrymore, also an actor and producer on the project. Marking Barrymore’s directorial debut, one has to wonder where Whip It will lead her and if her future projects will deliver more than this film was capable of. And although nothing was strikingly awful about the film’s direction, the story’s lack of rhythm and true narrative arc suggest that although she might know how to handle her actors well, Barrymore has a lot to learn about the camera’s role in her story. Yet credit must be given for one scene shot entirely underwater, as it not only appeared genius against the rest of the film, but executed a scene tenderly, seamlessly, and beautifully.
But of course no one can resist a little girl power, and why not? Shake it, baby, shake it! (And snag it on DVD!)