In a town near Austin, Bliss Cavendar's strong-willed mom believes Bliss, at 17, can win pageants - the key to a happy life. Bliss isn't the beauty pageant type: she's shy, quiet, and has just one friend, Pash, her fellow waitress at a diner. Things change for Bliss when she discovers a women's roller derby league in Austin, tries out, proves to be whip fast, and makes a team. Now she needs to become someone tough on the rink, keep her parents from finding out where she goes twice a week, and do something about a first crush, on a musician she meets at the derby. Meanwhile, mom still sees Bliss as Miss Bluebonnet. Things are on a collision course; will everyone get banged up? Written by
Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is a little gem
Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is a little gem. It could have been called Juno on Skates, such are the comparisons, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. Sure, Bliss Cavendar is almost identical to Juno MacGuff (and not just because Ellen Page plays them both), it follows a similar 'finding oneself' story arc, there are eccentric yet lovable parents and it prides itself on the unique dialogue flowing throughout; however Whip It has something up its sleeve to give it its own recognisable edge roller-derby. Fun doesn't come any thicker, faster or sillier than roller-derbying. Barrymore understands this and appropriately places the underground sport front and centre. The editing is occasionally too quick meaning you can't always see what is going on, but you are caught up in the atmosphere so much it doesn't really matter.
Beneath the action is a coming-of-age tale that wears its heart on its sleeve and bears all. Despite being slightly predictable and clichéd, real life roller-derby competitor Shauna Cross' screenplay (adapted from her own book) makes up for it with razor-sharp dialogue ("I can grow the balls") and genuinely intriguing characters. Not to mention the comedy littered throughout; never laugh-out-loud moments but you'll be chuckling from start to finish. The romance subplot could have been left out though, it doesn't hold your interest like the other story elements and feels slightly unnecessary.
Undeniably cute once again, Ellen Page stamps her A-list spot with another splendid, oddly appealing performance. Page's serious acting chops are matched by her superb comic timing as she proves that she is one of the finest young actors coming through today. The huge supporting cast is letdown by no-one; Kristen Wiig the pick of the bunch, her deadpan humour is hilarious and she is surely another actress we will see more of in the future. A special mention to Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern as well, they play Bliss' old folks with warmth and likability, never allowing them to become the typical misunderstanding parents you often find in these movies.
A laugh-a-minute affair with a bigger than average heart. Throw in a terrific little indie soundtrack and you have yourself a must-see movie.
4 out of 5 (1 - Rubbish, 2 - Ordinary, 3 - Good, 4 - Excellent, 5 - Classic)
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