Whip It

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“Mostly harmless.”

Bliss Cavendar (Page) is stuck in the hickville of Bodeen, Texas: her mother (Harden) coerces her into small-town beauty pagents, but Bliss’s heart isn’t in it. On a shopping trip to Austin, she picks up a roller-derby flyer, and on attending the event with her friend Pash (Shawkat), falls in love with the sport and decides to try out. She has to lie about her age to do so, and also keep her attendance a secret from her parents. Bliss has a natural talent, and helps her team, the Hurl Scouts, previously the doormats of the league, to the championship game against the Holy Rollers, under Iron Maven (Lewis). The confidence Bliss gains is not without its issues however, bringing her in to conflict with her boyfriend and Pash, as well as her parents…

In many ways, it’s A League of Their Own for the modern era, right the way down to the male coach, trying to get his girls to play the game the way he wants. Adversity must be overcome, friendships formed, life lessons learned, etc. These aspects are more like a chick-flick with a roller-derby backdrop, but it does manage to avoid the usual pitfalls of that genre. While skipping over some details of the game, the film does gets the “feel” of roller derby right, with the participants – Lewis in particular – capturing the cheerful anarchy at play, and the way they live for the game [it’s also nice to see Zoe Bell as one of her team-mates].

It’s a bit much to believe she can skip out for an entire season of games and practices, without her parents noticing, and Page is probably too much a physical lightweight to be truly convincing, though that’s disgused well enough you don’t really notice. However, the story is completely predictable, and without giving too much away, even the ending is little surprise at all, and fits in with the generally feel-good nature of this. As warm, fuzzy sports movies go, roller-derby may not be the most obvious choice, yet Barrymore has made a nice promo for the sport, and if the film would certainly have benefited from more conflict on the track, and less soap-opera off it, I certainly can’t claim to have disliked this.

Dir: Drew Barrymore
Star: Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Marcia Gay Harden, Juliette Lewis

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