Whip It!

By Patrick McCormick| comments | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare
Article Reviews
Directed by Drew Barrymore (Fox Searchlight, 2009) 

In Drew Barrymore’s new film about tattooed Texas lasses on skates, Ellen Page, who played a glib pregnant teen in Juno (Fox Searchlight), takes a turn around the track as a spunky, frightened, and impulsive roller derby princess.

At first glance Barrymore’s film is an old-fashioned coming-of-age tale in which our young heroine finds salvation and liberation by going after her dream, rebelling against loving but repressive parents. In the unlikely arena of women’s roller derby (a "sport" treating women with only slightly more dignity than mud wrestling), 17-year-old Burger Barn waitress and reluctant beauty contestant Bliss Cavendar (Page) finds her true calling.

Racing and slamming around the track with her band of misfit sister skaters gives Bliss—now known as "Babe Ruthless"—a sense of purpose, status, and belonging that had always eluded her.

But Barrymore’s film is ultimately about what it takes and costs to be a parent, and this teenage drama suggests the adolescent challenges facing Bliss are nothing compared to the labors of the women who carry her through this journey. Brooke (Marcia Gay Hardin) is the working mom who tries to give Bliss the leg up that her own mother had never provided, only to discover that her dreams are not her daughter’s. And if Bliss must be courageous on the derby track, the mother watching her daughter slammed against the rails must be a superhero.

Meanwhile, sister skaters Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) and Smashley Simpson (Barrymore) try to pick up some of the maternal slack, guiding and goading Bliss through the obstacles of adolescence, knowing full well that teenagers only look like adults, and that it takes a lot of parenting to keep them upright. The trick here, as any good skater will tell you, is knowing when to let go of the child and send her out into the world at a speed that scares you to death.