Sunday, 18 April 2010

FILM REVIEW: Whip It


Ellen Page is only 23. Only just 23 in fact. I say this because she looked incredibly young in this film, and for all her wisecrackin' in Juno and torturing a paedophile in Hard Candy for some reason I thought she was in her mid to late 20s, and Drew Barrymore had done a mighty fine job taking the years off her in this role. But no, she is actually that young. So that makes her even more impressive as an actress, and she is adorable in sporty chick flick-slash-coming of age dramedy Whip It.

Yes this film is an amalgamation of things, which means it has mass appeal for almost anybody and it's thoroughly entertaining to boot. I applaud Drew Barrymore for choosing to do something different for her first stint behind the camera, because even though this has flashes of the conventional there are also a few quirks and surprises in there too, not to mention the bumping and grinding round the roller derby track.

Bliss (Page) has grown up under her mother's guiding wing going from beauty contest to beauty contest in a small town in Texas. But she's not a typical beauty queen, and her growing boredom with the charade leads her to episodes of dying her hair blue and buying shoes from a headshop. Then a roller derby poster catches her eye, and she sneaks out with best friend and rebellious side kick Pash (Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat) into a whole new world of broken noses, slamming into barriers and people called Jabba the Slut. Instantly she's hooked and has found a new calling in life - one she has to undertake covertly so her family won't find out.

There's so much to like about this film, and that's mainly down to the stellar cast who are all brilliantly likeable (save for maybe the token love interest who's a bit of a grungey bore. But at least he's not a typically clean cut jock). The skaters have been cast really well, with Kristen Wiig as the maternal one, director Drew playing a kooky loon and Juliette Lewis as arch enemy Iron Maiden. They contrast well to young Page who goes from awkward nerd who wears custom made dresses to super hot young whippet roller derby poster girl (Ellen Page is beautiful in this. I may have to stalk her). This transformation is of course totally unrealistic, although the film does put in a good show of Bliss obsessively training around her small town at night on her pre school Barbie skates. But this isn't supposed to be completely realistic, and while her rise to stardom may be a beautiful dream the accompanying homelife drama sours it nicely.

Here we get a big shout out to Marcia Gay Harden who is terrific as Bliss' controlling but well-meaning mum. The mother-daughter relationship is one of the big emotional pulls of the film and it's realised beautifully here when Bliss' secret is found out and the subsequent fallout leads to heated arguments and emotional tear-filled reconciliations and heart-to-hearts. Even the overly sentimental part at the end when her mother finds her beauty pageant speech dedicated to her is well balanced. There are also some tough moments to bear, such as Pash's arrest and Bliss leaving home and having to communicate using a payphone. It's all very believable and helps to ground the story so you really come to care about the characters and their lives.

The action bits of the film were a bit sparse, although they did well to introduce a newly emerging sport to a wider audience. I didn't have a clue what roller derbies were about, so it was nice to be put into Bliss' shoes when we get the rules explained to us, and then later we watch as different strategies and formations are played out by the coach. There's also a lot of mischievous fun and banter, especially around Drew's Smashley Simpson persona and it's obvious everyone had an absolute ball making the film. There's some great girly moments too such as the food fight in the diner where the acting on screen spills over into real life enjoyment.

Whip It is a definite feel good film, and a great way to bond with friends or to perk yourself up. And even though it's not truly memorable (it was slightly foreshadowed by Remember Me which I had gone to see just before) it's one of those above par films that you'll find yourself watching again and being flooded with happy memories of actually how good it is, or sitting down to watch just a bit of it on the TV and then settling down until the end credits.



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