Saturday, October 03, 2009

Whip It (**)

Whip It. 121 mins. PG-13. Directed by Drew Barrymore. Written by Shauna Cross. Starring Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Eve, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Daniel Stern, Andrew Wilson, and Jimmy Fallon.

Drew Barrymore makes her directorial debut with Whip It, and that's what it feels like: a movie from a first-time filmmaker. The big success here is that Drew was able to pull it off. She's made a movie. It's not a very original movie, and it's not all that funny, but it's far from a disaster. Ellen Page stars as Bliss Cavender, an aimless indie-rock loving misfit, who rebels against her beauty pageant-loving mom (Marcia Gay Harden), and joins up with a roller derby squad called the Hurl Scouts. Adopting the moniker of Babe Ruthless, it's there that she finds her true self and a place in the world, if only she can overcome her parents' disapproval, her best friend's rejection, and the taunts of a rival roller derby queen played by Juliette Lewis. Page is good and very different here than she was in Juno, but she's stuck having to play cliche after cliche, and the unimaginative script is strictly by-the-numbers. Andrew Wilson (Luke and Owen's brother) has a couple of nice moments as the squad's coach, and Kristen Wiig is pretty good too in a mostly dramatic role that shows her range as a performer. But for every thing that Drew gets right, she gets as many things wrong. She doesn't really capture the intoxicating thrill of roller derby, or why Bliss would be so drawn to it in the first place. As a director, Drew is also prone to corny "comedic" moments, like when the girls get in an all-out food fight after a game one night. Food fight scenes are almost impossible to pull off, and Whip It proves to be no exception to the rule. By the end, you're just ready for the parade of cliches to end. Will Bliss' mom accept her newfound roller derby queen status? Will her dad attend one of her games? Will her best friend forgive her? Will the Hurl Scouts win the championship? That last question should be easy to answer if you've seen A League of Their Own. Here's hoping Drew uses Whip It for the stepping stone in her directing career that it is, and actually does something a little more worthwhile next time out.

- John


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