Wednesday, March 31, 2010

"Whip It" (2009)

"Whip It" (2009)
Starring Ellen Paige, Marcia Gay Harden and Kristen Wiig
Written by Shauna Cross (based on her novel)
Directed by Drew Barrymore

Remember the other day when I said my same-sex celebrity crush was Sean Connery and Daniel Craig?  Well, my regular ol' hetero celebrity crush is totally Drew Barrymore.  Not only do I find her endlessly attractive, but her peculiar mixture of crazy and sweet just works.  Lately, she hasn't been much of an on-screen presence, which is unfortunate... and yet, also fortunate since it brings us to "Whip It," Barrymore's directorial debut.

Ellen Paige stars as Bliss Cavendar, a high school misfit who spends her days sad at school, unhappy at her job, and downright miserable as her mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) forces her to participate in local beauty pageants.  One day at a store in Austin, Texas, she catches sight of an advertisement for a local roller derby and is intrigued enough to drag her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) along.  She instantly falls in love with it's infectious, brash energy.  She goes to tryouts, and quickly proves herself a talent on wheels and joins the Hurl Scouts.

Bliss adopts the derby alter ego of Babe Ruthless, teaming up with Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore) and taking on the villainous Holy Rollers and their leader, Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis).  Bliss also meets a boy, Oliver (Landon Pigg) who plays in a small time rock band.  Unfortunately, Bliss can't reveal her newfound love(s) to her parents, instead telling them that she's taking a night time SAT course.  At the same time, she can't reveal to her new teammates that she's actually only 17 years old, as the league is supposed to be 21-plus. 

"Whip It" follows a fairly typical plot progression, but, frankly that doesn't matter much.  It sports a great cast that has wonderful chemistry with each other.  The bond that forms quickly between the Hurl Scouts is palpable, and their names are just as funny as the dialogue they're spouting with gusto.  Paige is a talented actress, and I hope her last couple of films won't pigeonholed the rest of her career into a certain role due to the success of "Juno."  She certainly plays a similar type here, the intelligent, indie rock-loving social misfit mature beyond her years. 

The other characters are all suitably quirky and funny.  Barrymore has a bit role as Smashley Simpson, a perennially injured teammate of Bliss'.  Bliss' parents are well-played as well, and the relationship between the three is suitably complex.  It could easily have been a one-note, child-vs-parents, but it's clear that Bliss cares deeply for her parents. 

Barrymore's direction is great.  The film might not be the most visually stylish thing you've ever seen; no new ground is broken here.  Maybe the most artful thing is a dialogue-less underwater love scene between Bliss and Oliver just as things are coming to a head with Bliss' dueling lives.  It's sweet and romantic, and very well shot.  The whole movie is, of course.  It's bright, and colorful with lots of great detail in the costumes and makeup, and the action sequences at the derby exhibitions are always easy to understand.  The rules of the roller derby are made clear, and then the exhibitions are presented clearly, never allowing the viewer to be confused as to what's going on.

So while ultimately "Whip It" is not the most glaringly original film you'll ever see, it's one that's very well made, with a funny, endearing script populated by lively characters.  That, and you get to watch a bunch of hot chicks beating the crap out of each other.