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A Bunch of Bad Ass Chicks on Skates

September 1st, 2010 · 3 Comments

Whip It 2009 Eve Drew Barrymore Ellen Page Zoe Bell Kristen Wiig pic 1

The Bechdel Test was named for Allison Bechdel, whose comic strip Dykes To Watch Out For in 1985 measured female presence in movies by employing three criteria: Are there two or more women in it, with names? Do the women talk to each other? About something other than a man? Far too many mainstream movies flunk this test, but in the month of September, I take a look at ten recent movies that pass.

Whip It 2009 poster Whip It dvd

Whip It (2009)
Directed by Drew Barrymore
Screenplay by Shauna Cross, based on her novel Derby Girl
Produced by Barry Mendel, Drew Barrymore
111 minutes

Whip It is like a Burt Reynolds redneck comedy spiked with female empowerment. In terms of consistency, it’s a brew that falls somewhere between The Longest Yard and Hooper, capturing the essence of Burt in the outtakes over the end credits and the realization that the people who made the movie had way more fun than the audience did watching it. A co-founder of the Los Angeles based Derby Dolls, screenwriter Shauna Cross amassed so much material that fellow scribe Kirsten “Kiwi” Smith compelled her to write about it. Cross pitched both a young adult book titled Derby Girl and a screenplay, which were optioned by Drew Barrymore and Nancy Juvonen of Flower Films. Cross’s script nudged Barrymore into making her directorial debut. With Academy Award nominee Ellen Page attached to star, Mandate Pictures agreed to finance Whip It to the tune of $10 million.

Retaining the services of producer Barry Mendel, director of photography Robert Yeoman and editor Dylan Tichenor, Barrymore seems to have had the whimsy of Wes Anderson in her sights, but aiming for too many targets — sports comedy, high school comedy, mother/daughter comedy — she ends up hitting none. The compositions and set design are magnificent, but when it comes to writing about the misadventures of outcast teenage girls, Shauna Cross never gets around Diablo Cody’s Juno, which for better or worse, stood out from the pack, something Whip It never really manages. The consolation package includes the most talented cast any first time director could hope for. Set in the Lone Star State, proud Texans may be snake bit to realize that the picture was shot almost entirely in Michigan for tax breaks. In the end, setting the film in the 1970s might have given Whip It the glue it needed.

Whip It 2009 title card

In the Texas Hill Country town of “Bodeen”, 18-year-old Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) takes the stage for a beauty pageant with blue highlights that her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) helped spike her hair with. The stunt upsets Bliss’s mother (Marcia Gay Harden), a former beauty queen pushing her daughter to excel. While on a shopping trip in Austin, Bliss encounters three babes on wheels handing out flyers to an exhibition roller derby game. Bliss convinces Pash to sneak out with her to the show. Her friend returns the favor by shoving Bliss into the arms of a young punk rock musician named Oliver (Landon Pigg). Once the show starts, Bliss finds new heroes in the tattooed, surly Hurl Scouts: Maggie Mayhem (Kristin Wiig), Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell), Rosa Sparks (Eve) and Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore).

Speaking to Maggie after the show, Bliss is invited to do more than worship the Hurl Scouts by trying out for the team. Digging her old Barbie roller skates out of the attic, she begins training and impresses the team’s coach Razor (Andrew Wilson) with her speed. Adopting the name Babe Ruthless, Bliss discovers that bad attitudes are encouraged among her teammates but as a result, they consistently lose to the Holy Rollers and their sadistic captain Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis). Bliss refuses to change her can-do attitude and helps the Hurl Scouts win a game. She keeps her roller derby life secret from her mother and father (Daniel Stern) but as the Hurl Scouts head for the championship game, Bliss faces a dilemma when the beauty pageant that means so much to her mom falls on the same day.

Whip It 2009 Ellen Page pic 2

Whip It 2009 Ellen Page Alia Shawkat pic 3

Whip It 2009 Eulala Scheel Ellen Page Marcia Gay Harden pic 4

Whip It 2009 Drew Barrymore Kristen Wiig pic 5

Whip It 2009 Andrew Wilson pic 6

Whip It 2009 Juliette Lewis Ellen Page pic 7

Whip It 2009 pic 8

Whip It 2009 Ellen Page Landon Pigg pic 9

Whip It 2009 Marcia Gay Harden Ellen Page pic 10

Whip It 2009 Juliette Lewis Ellen Page pic 11

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 18,991 users: 73% for Whip It

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: 68 for Whip It

What do you say?

Tags: Based on novel · Bathtub scene · Coming of age · Drunk scene · High school · Mother/daughter relationship · No opening credits · Road trip · Shot In Texas · Small town · Sports

3 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Tommy Salami // Sep 1, 2010 at 6:38 am

    I liked Whip It. While it had amateur moments, it was refreshing. It’s a simple story that plays out as expected, and is brought to life by its characters and cast. It was good clean fun and we need more girl movies like this where they aren’t just boy toys.

  • 2 moviezzz // Sep 1, 2010 at 12:47 pm

    I liked the film A LOT more than you did Joe. It made my ten best list last year.

    Maybe it is because I was so starved for films last year about characters and people that I was so surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I went to see it only because of Kristen Wiig being in it, but loved it.

    Drew did a great job with the performers. I can’t wait for her next film. And while I didn’t care for JUNO, I thought Ellen Page was wonderful in this.

  • 3 Joe Valdez // Sep 1, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Tommy: I can’t argue with anything you wrote. Whip It is good, clean, likable fun. I don’t know if the material warranted a feature film, but I did like the way the teenage girl resolved her boy problem. So my “verdict” is either a yellow light or a sold green yielding to oncoming traffic. Thanks for commenting!

    Jim: I will see anything Kristen Wiig appears in. Her motivational speech — if it wasn’t improvised, it wasn’t in the script — was the funniest thing in the movie. I agree that Drew Barrymore is a talented producer with the potential to be a terrific director, but this material was the definition of “meh” for me. Glad you enjoyed it though!

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