Whip It (2009)
111 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: B +
Hot off of "Juno," Ellen Page is not only the poster-child for articulate smart-alecks everywhere, but now with "Whip It," she's a small-fry, kick-ass whippersnapper on skates. She's Bliss, a rebellious 17-year-old misfit living in the armpit of a small-town, Bodine, Texas, where she works at the Oink Joint and tries pleasing her overbearing, '50s-values mom (Marcia Gay Harden) by entering beauty pageants. This spunky, petite youth in revolt finds a flier for a female roller derby team named the Hurl Scouts in an Austin warehouse. Her coach (Andrew Wilson, Luke and Owen's funnier brother) and the tattooed hardasses see speed in her, nicknaming her on the rink, “Babe Ruthless.” Bliss keeps her passion a secret from her parents, she is romanced by a greasy-haired punk band vocalist, and butts heads with a fellow skater (Juliette Lewis).
34-year-old Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is made with gusto, affection, and of course, girl power!, and she finds the right tone every time. Shauna Cross wrote the script, taken from her novel “Derby Girl,” and this tried-and-true blueprint has been around the block a jillion times—for one, the obligatory “Food Fight!” scene. But "Whip It" mostly avoids writing out clichés and for a warm, winning, and entertaining formula, that's fine.
The excellent cast is fun company and gives the film an easygoing vibe. It's great to see Kristen Wiig not only being funny in an otherwise straight role as Maggie Mayhem, but playing Bliss's caring, helpful maternal figure as well. (Zoe Bell and Eve are two of Bliss's other confidantes.) The friendship between Bliss and her best friend Pash (a very funny and likable Alia Shawkat from TV's late, great "Arrested Development") rings so true that you believe they've been friends forever. Daniel Stern plays Bliss's beer-chugging father, and it's one of his best roles in quite some time, while Harden's mother character is more complex than just a one-note shrew. There's a very tenderly delivered scene late in the movie with Harden reading a sincerely written note by Bliss for her beauty pageant speech—and the scene reads the same way.
The alternative hipster soundtrack by the likes of The Ramones, Radiohead, and MGMT rocks, the rink footage is whippy, and the sport itself is certainly not your basic sport. Barrymore gives herself such a smallish role as Smashley Simpson, an aggressive (but constantly nose-bleeding) chick on the track that you couldn't consider this a vanity piece. "Whip It" good.