Just finished watching the new-on-DVD-and-download flick ”Whip It” – Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut – and I loved it. This one has loads of hip-checking charisma delivered by an ensemble of female performers with total commitment to the smart, funny, and bruising aspects of the project.
The plot concerns a small town Texas girl (Ellen Page) who goes behind the back of her beauty pageant-obsessed mother (Marcia Gay Harden, locating the sympathy in a potentially grotesque caricature) to join an all-female Austin roller derby team called The Hurl Scouts. Members have rink handles like “Eva Destruction,” “Bloody Holly,” “Rosa Sparks,” and “Iron Maven.” (The latter belongs to Juliette Lewis, who nicely modulates the ever-present skank factor to play a merciless derby veteran/villain with smirky relish).
“Whip It” manages to subvert cloying princess “entitlement fantasy” movies and amoeba-brained “triumph of the underdog” sports films by weaving them into a bold, slightly androgynous hybrid. It’s predictable but still has its own dogged personality. It has the stick-to-your-heart cult worthiness of teen flicks like “Valley Girl,” “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and “Sixteen Candles” – on hard-charging wheels, of course.
In the lead role, the soulful, sardonic Ellen Page easily outdoes her work in the overrated “Juno”—not surprising, since she doesn’t have Diablo Cody’s preposterous prefab slang to weigh her down here. Newbie director Drew Barrymore has quite a bit to learn about pacing and dramatic tension – but then so does Quentin Tarantino, and that hasn’t hurt his curiously long career. (I saw “Inglorious Basterds” last week – what a smug, lethargic mess). “Whip It” overcomes its storytelling deficiencies with a bevy of glittering, tough-and-tender performances.