September 27, 2009

Whip It - 2009

Director: Drew Barrymore
Writer: Shauna Cross
Starring: Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Andrew Wilson, Juliette Lewis

"That was odd." "Oddly glorious." The directorial debut of Drew Barrymore, Whip It tells the rather heartwarming story of Bliss Cavendar (Page), a girl from a tiny Texas town who, after being forced into pageants to fulfill her mother's (Harden) dreams, escapes to Austin, and falls in love with something to call her own: roller derby.

When I entered the theater (after getting my free t-shirt emblazoned with the film's title, tagline, and a roller skate), it was nearly barren. There couldn't have been more than ten people total, which I took to be a bad sign for a sneak preview. (Also, no ads or previews.) In retrospect, I'll chalk this up to underpromotion, as this film was phenomenal, especially considering it was virgin territory for Barrymore. The cast gave great performances, from Page and Shawkat (typical best-of-friends) to all the wonderfully-named derby girls to Andrew Wilson as the Hurl Scouts' (I told you they had awesome names) coach. The only performance I took issue with was that of Jimmy Fallon, who plays the derby announcer, but I've never been a fan of his. Also, I noticed cigarette burns during the film, meaning it wasn't the nice DLP projector I was used to, but that's not the film's fault.

There are some really good parts of the script, like the explanation of derby rules, how Page's character gets her best friend to throw up when she's been drinking, a tour of Austin, and the underwater sequence. However, what really makes the film is that you can tell that Drew Barrymore had a lot of fun making it. Her character Smashley Simpson gets to beat up on her in-movie fiance, get into fights with opponents, and declare a food fight, among other things. When a director's motivation is that apparent to the audience, I call it a success, no matter the box office returns or critical reviews.

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