‘Be your own hero’ runs the tagline to Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut.
It could have been ‘Fuck Twilight’. Because while Whip It! is just as much about being the cool outsider and pulling the skinny emo guy as the mega-franchise, it’s so much more vital and fun.
Whip It! isn’t about falling in love forever with a bloke you can’t shag, it’s about falling in love right now, with a bloke you can shag. It’s not about giving up your formative years, it’s about embracing them, making mistakes, finding a balance. And it’s about fighting on skates.
Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page – channelling Juno minus the smugness) is an indie-kid 17-year-old in small-town Texas, who reluctantly enters beauty pageants to please her mother (Marcia Gay Harden – spiky but sympathetic). But when Bliss and best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) sneak out to a roller derby bout, Bliss is smitten with what she sees, hears and feels. She joins the Hurl Scouts, becomes ‘Babe Ruthless’ and meets band leader Ollie (Landon Pigg). But her double life can’t last...
Part underdog sports flick, part coming-of-ager, Whip It! trades on familiar formulaics, yet Shauna Cross’ smart script (based on her novel) keeps things fresh and funny. Using up to seven referees at once, roller derby’s a hard sport for newbies to follow; still, girls in fishnets and war paint shoving each other about will appeal to both genders.
The romance between Bliss and Ollie is sweet and believable, but with the exception of the excellent Kristen Wiig as Maggie Mayhem the movie skates over backstory for most of the Hurl Scouts, including Barrymore herself (as Smashley Simpson), who mostly guffaws and punches people.
Yet Whip It! is so passionate, so positive and, yes, empowering, it’s hard not to fall for. It might even make you want to get skates and have a go yourself. And at least roller derby won’t bugger off to another country if you get a paper cut.
Barrymore’s debut is a blazing coming-of-ager for alt girls. Confusing derby scenes mean it struggles as a sports film, but Twi-sceptics should love it.