Whip It
Is this a dream or a nightmare?

Theatrical Release Date: 10/02/2009
Director: Drew Barrymore
Cast: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern, Alia Shawkat, Kristen Wiig, Zoe Bell, Andrew Wilson, Landon Pigg, Eve, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon

I’ve always thought that Roller Derby is a really fun sport. What’s not to like when scrappy women go head to head in a full contact competition with names like Iron Maven, Babe Ruthless and Smashley Simpson? Yeah, that’s right – nothing.

Thanks to a novel turned script by actual roller derby athlete,
Shauna “Maggie Mayhem” Cross, the sport is now up on the big screen with first time feature film director Drew Barrymore at the helm. Pulling together a really fun cast with the likes of Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern, Kristen Wiig, Eve, Zoe Bell and Barrymore herself, the film can’t fail, now can it? Well, I suppose that’s true.

What “Whip It” has going for it is the very fun and eclectic cast and a sport that’s really fun to watch. Working against it is an extremely predictable story and rather mundane film making. Don’t get me wrong, Ms. Barrymore has spent so much time on film sets ever since “E.T.” that I’m sure she’s got all the nuts and bolts figured out. However, nothing she brought to the film in lieu of shot selection, roller derby action or plot progression felt fresh or exciting.

She does try for one thing, a make-out session in a pool between Page and the stereotypical garage band singer (Landon Pigg). They spent enough time underwater making out to qualify for SCUBA certification. Of course, that also means the audience is subjected to shot after shot after shot of the pair struggling to stay underwater and be sexy. This felt awkward very quickly and like Barrymore was desperate to find some cinematic beauty.

As far as the the acting is concerned, everyone does a decent job. There’s nothing new from Page here but she imbues the character with a nice mix of rebellion and vulnerability (which is pretty much her thing these days … what happened to more challenging roles like “Hard Candy”?). Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern are fantastic choices to play a couple of Texas parents and add comedy and warmth to the production. Perhaps the most surprising acting performance comes from SNL regular, Kristen Wiig. She has had a string of quirky and sarcastic supporting roles but here she gets a chance to play it straight and does a very nice job.

The rest of Page’s roller derby teammates are all fun and it’s clear they had a great time making the film – sadly, it looks like they had more fun behind the scenes than what ended up on-screen. This is highlighted by the semi-gag reel that rolls during the credits. There was obviously a lot of shenanigans going on when the cameras weren’t rolling and while some of that energy translated to the finished product (most notably with Zoe Bell whose always a blast to watch in ensemble films), overall I was left feeling ho-hum about it all.

There’s a charming sweetness to the film and I did find myself silently cheering for Page’s team (the Hurl Scouts) to pull out the victory. However, given a slow enough Sunday, one might also find me watching any of a number of sports and doing the same thing … it’s got something to do with male DNA.

In any case, should you find yourself wanting a small slice of female empowerment and not wanting something more dramatic (“The Boys Are Back“) or bloody (“Zombieland“), although each are far more satisfying, you’ll get what you expect here. This is one of those take it or leave it films that you might find yourself leaving on the television if it comes on some weekend afternoon; I just wouldn’t go to much effort to track it down elsewhere. It may not be a ringing endorsement but “Whip It” follows through on its predictable nature and so I’ll give it a tepid 3 out of 5.