By Lauren Linhard
ArtsPost Staff Writer
“Whip It,” recently released on DVD, comes packaged with an additional cardboard cover that opens to pictures of the cast. The movie puts in good effort, but you are obviously paying top dollar for the case rather than the film. Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, though featuring a rather impressive cast of Hollywood females, lacks energy and originality.
“Whip It” is a familiar coming-of-age story with roller derby thrown in there for a twist. It starts with a young Bliss Cavendar being forced to live her mother’s dream in the world of Texas pageants. It’s only a matter of time before Bliss discovers her need for roller derby and some kick-ass substitute mothers. Of course, when her parents learn of her secret life as Babe Ruthless, everything starts to fall apart and Bliss must choose between her parent’s wishes and her own.
The usual groups of stereotypical characters find their place in “Whip It.” The first five minutes show the obnoxious popular crowd teasing Bliss. Then there is the sexually mature best friend that emphasizes Bliss’ naiveté. And the film is peppered with scenes of parents who just don’t understand. While all of these characters have been seen before, they do their part to fuel the film.
However, the most annoying thing about movies is when a random, unnecessary, romance is just kind of tossed into the plot mix. It’s inevitable that the love interest does something that causes complete disruption in the protagonist’s journey. In this case, the role falls to Oliver (Landon Pigg). Bliss refuses to admit defeat and leaves home when her parent’s find out about derby. But the second she learns her musician boyfriend has cheated, she breaks down and returns to face the judgment of her parents. It would have been better just to pass up that small niche audience that always craves a love interest, no matter how shallow.
Ellen Page does an excellent job as an unconventional young woman seeking freedom. It quickly becomes clear, however, that Juno was taken from the suburbs and told to skate in circles. Minus the pregnant belly, Page’s performance lacked fresh inspiration. Jimmy Fallon makes for an amusing “Hot Tub” Johnny Rocket, the roller derby commentator. The rather dry script depends heavily on him for the rare comedic lines.
Barrymore’s random appearances as Smashley Simpson, one of the Hurl Scout skaters, comes off completely false and overacted. Strongest in chick flicks like “Never Been Kissed” and “Music and Lyrics,” Barrymore just couldn’t find her bearings as a derby skater. Perhaps, as director, she should have stayed behind the camera this time.
As far as camera work goes, the film does deserve credit for gradual improvement. With Robert Yeoman behind the camera, having previously worked on “Yes Man” and “Martian Child,” the movie transitions from visually amateur to professional. Though shots were out of time with the skating action in early derby matches, the final skate scene was much more successful. The quick cuts increased tension and the rapid filming tempo during the championship was much more impressive.
Despite that “Whip It” is a story seen many times before, audiences will find the derby culture amusing and fans of Ellen Page will appreciate the film’s efforts. “Whip It” doesn’t merit a true movie-night, but you might consider it when craving something brainless. Suggestion: just wait till the price goes down.