Friday, 14 January 2011

Whip It

As with so many child stars it all could have gone so wrong for Drew Barrymore. Well, actually it did. She was in rehab at 13 and attempted suicide at 14. Yes, it went wrong but she didn’t just survive, she came back with a vengeance. Not only is her acting career in exceedingly healthy shape but she got behind the camera for this in 2009. Whip It is her directorial debut and it’s a great film. Ellen Page plays Bliss Cavendar, a small town, Texan 17 year-old who is being regularly shoved into fifties-throwback beauty pageants by her mother (Marcia Gay Harden). Unbeknown to her parents she becomes involved in the world of roller derby in nearby Austin and thrives in the all-girl, all-contact-sport under her new moniker, Babe Ruthless.

The roller derby scenes are actually the weaker aspects of the film. What Barrymore’s clearly very capable of is directing actors and the wordier scenes push all of the right buttons. It helps to have a solid cast. Oscar-winner, Marcia Gay Harden is great as always. The somewhat underrated Daniel Stern (probably best known as the bungling burglar in Home Alone who’s not Joe Pesci) gives a beautifully nuanced performance as Bliss’ dad. Barrymore does act in the film but she only has few lines. This seems a wise move. Directors crashing into the foreground often have a bull in a china shop effect, wrecking the illusion of the film. Exhibit A: Quentin Tarantino in Pulp Fiction.

Not quite sure how to define this one. Is it a teen movie? Not really. Is it a chick flick? Well, sort of. I quite like a film to be impossible to pigeonhole. Sadly, I suppose that’s why it didn’t set the box office alight (although it was a modest success). But it’s fun, funny and smart, and should appeal to the demographic that has a heart, a brain and a sense of humour. 


  1. A fair review Monsieur Will, but I personally thought that Whip It suffered from a case of the "genre-what-am-I's" lurching from Juno-esque indie chic, to knockabout comedy via teen issue tv drama of the week. Ultimately I can only blame this on Drew Barrymore who seems to lack the directorial nous to drive the picture in a consistent direction ( her bit part character also adds to the disjointed feel, sometimes literally diving into scenes as if from another movie; she seems to be channelling the spirit of John Belushi). The movie as a whole was handled with as little (sporting) cliche as possible, perhaps thanks to a female director and I agree that Stern did really well with a limited part (will the world ever get the City Slickers 3 film it deserves) but overall I felt it was a lost opportunity and did not mark Drew out as a actor/director to be reckoned with.

  2. I really liked this film, but yes it was a bit all over the place. The rock band boyfriend was the weakest bit for me, I would have chucked that out all together and had a bit more bonding with the girls type stuff. Would have helped to make the film more focused on what the main theme was: finding your place in the world, your own way no matter how weird and florescent the clothes are.

  3. Agreed, the boyfriend felt like a concession to financiers or intended audiences, could easily have been dropped.

    Lots of potential but feels like a first draft. She should remake it, Hollywood won't stop her that's their modus operandi nowadays.