(This is my first review, so, a notice: I rate movies out of 4 stars that will be denoted with asterisks (*). 1 star=terrible. 2 stars=fair at best. 3=good. 4=great)
Whip it (***/****)
I respect Whip It for exactly what it is: fun, well-made, and disposable. The film sets out to put a smile on your face, and succeeds admirably. The plot revolves around Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), a Texas teen forced into beauty pageants by her domineering mother (Marcia Gay Harden). By chance, she discovers the Texas Roller Derby in Austin, a sport which involves skating around a circle whilst beating other girls senseless, among other things. Bliss, blessed with natural derby talent, tries out for the Hurl Scouts; the underdog team populated by characters like Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), a badass with a soft side, and Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore), the resident anger-management case. Adopting the name babe Ruthless, Bliss becomes the star of the team, facing off with their sworn enemies, the Holy Rollers, and their diva, Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis).
What follows is completely predictable. Indeed, any savvy reader could probably give me an accurate synopsis of the rest of the film just from the description above: hijinks ensue, including but not limited to concealing bruises from parents, scheduling woes, conflicts with old friends and new friends, and the improbable rush to the Championship match. What sets Whip It apart from other cliched sports films, however, is the pure sense of fun and energy that oozes from every bruised pore. The cast, helmed by Barrymore in her directorial debut, obviously had a blast making this film, and it shines through in every scene. This movie is definitive proof that goofy grins are contagious. Another unique element is its gung-ho feminist undertones. The clashing of dolled-up beauty pageant queens with the tattooed and bruised roller derby stars is both amusing and enlightening: obviously, this film prefers women who have abandoned the desire to please others, and have thrown themselves into moving in their own directions.
The acting is solid across the board: Ellen Page is, as always, adorable and pitch perfect. Her transformation from reluctant beauty pageant showhorse to empowered skater-girl is always believable. The supporting cast is sterling as well: special props must go to Juliette Lewis, whose Iron Maven is so over-the-top that she must be real. The directing, alas, is not as inspired as the acting. It is Barrymore's debut, so I'll give her the benefit of the doubt for now, but her directing style can best be described as perfunctory. Perhaps, with more time and experience, she'll come into her own as an artist.
Final verdict? Enjoyable, amusing, not going to win any awards. This film would be perfect to rent on a rainy day: save your cash and see it then.