When it comes to female-driven films the result can often be overly sentimental, with a script that could be used for a movie on the Lifetime network. Fortunately, this is not necessarily the case with “Whip It.” Although it mingles with cliche moments, the film proves that the “girl power” genre is not entirely dead.
For Bliss Cavendar (Page), life in Bodeen, Texas can be very dull. To make matters worse, her mother, former beauty pageant winner Brooke Cavendar (Harden), is pushing Bliss to live the same kind of young adulthood that she did. Bliss’s sole companion in her otherwise drab life is her best friend and co-worker at the local diner, Pash (Alia Shawkat). Bliss soon stumbles across roller derby competitions that are being held in Austin. With Pash in tow, Bliss makes her way there to see if the life she’s cut out for is more than pretty dresses and womanly graces. She eventually establishes herself as being good enough for the team and sets out to prove her overbearing mother wrong while trying to find some semblance of happiness and contentment in her life.
Every time I see Page I just think of her character in “Juno” and “Whip It” is no different. She’s still playing the girl who’s alternative to everything and looking for her own spot in life. Page is a good actress, though, and I enjoy her in this film, but she needs to lose that precocious, wide-eyed hipster look. Alia Shawkat, of “Arrested Development” fame, offers up a convincing and humorous portrayal as Pash. It appears that she hasn’t lost that sense of comedic timing that was so imperative to “Development’s” jokes. Barrymore’s performance is as energetic and spontaneous as her early years as a drug addict, and she’s a pleasure to watch. Although I’m not a fan of him at all, Jimmy Fallon gives a decent performance as the roller derby announcer and actually manages to crack a few jokes that are, believe it or not, funny.
In her directorial debut, Barrymore appears to be just as confident behind the camera as she is in front of it. Although her directing style does seem to be slightly flat, she knows what she’s doing and her years of living on film sets have paid off. The film itself, though, is riddled with clichés. The girl who wants to break free from her oppressive house, the boy she falls for, and learns a lesson in love from, and the age-old mantra that winning isn’t everything. Yet for each typical convention that Barrymore uses, she is able to infuse it with that same spark of giddiness and happiness she exudes in everyday life.
Although set in present-day Texas, “Whip It” has a distinct anachronistic feel to it. Everything from the way the characters are dressed to the music played during roller derby scenes screams that what we’re seeing takes place in the ’80s. It’s this sort of playfulness that actually elevates the film to being slightly more than a typical underdog sports story. The cinematography is nothing to get too excited about, as the shots are mainly static. The only real excitement comes from when the girls are actually participating in roller derby and even then they eventually all start to look the same.
“Whip It,” though the way it tells its story and the story itself is somewhat tired, the film still manages to tell an energetic, fun tale about the dreams we have and the lengths we’re willing to reach them. It’s not an Oscar-worthy film by any means but it’s worth a trip to the theater.