Barrymore’s “Whip It” is one whirl of a debut
“Whip It” is Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, and from the looks of things she knows her way around a movie set, and for that matter, a roller rink. Her new film, in which she perfectly casts Ellen Page (“Juno”) and a terrific ensemble, is a charming girl-power-infused coming of age story filled with Barrymore’s spunk. Despite its somewhat contrived formula, “Whip It” feels like a spirited Indie that refuses to sell out, demonstrating respect for both its characters and its audience.
Page is utterly endearing as Bliss, a 17-year-old living in tiny Bodeen, Texas and working at a local diner with her gal pal Pash (Alia Shawkat). Her controlling mom (a splendid Marcia Gay Harden) puts her in pageants, while her non-mettling, blue collar dad (Daniel Synder) tries to offer support. When Bliss discovers the rough and tumble world of women’s’ roller derby in nearby Austin, her newfound passion is bound to create problems at home.
Bliss secretly joins the Hurl Scouts, the fan favorites and perennial losers of the Roller Derby circuit and becomes Babe Ruthless. Among her teammates are the similarly fabulously-named skaters including Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Smashley Simpson (Barrymore), and nemesis tough chick Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis). Andrew Wilson (Luke and Owen’s brother) does a terrific job as the Scouts’ good humored and often exasperated coach.
The well-shot action sequences make an outdated sport seem fresh while capitalizing on the cast’s authentic and ample skating skills.
The real jewel is the smart screenplay written by Shauna Cross (author of the novel “Derby Girl”). The story is a journey of self discovery of a young, plucky teenager and though there are bumps in Bliss’s road, the film avoids exploitation or lazy demonization, especially in the roles of the parents.
From the perfectly suited soundtrack mixing the 80’s with bouncy current alternative songs, to the boyfriend turn by musician Landon Pigg, Barrymore gets all the details right in this simple but darling little film that will go down as one of the more impressive debuts by an actor turned director.
Rated PG-13 for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material.