Literally just got back from a sneak preview of Fox Searchlight’s new potential sleeper Whip It! Gotta say, I really enjoyed it. Good job, director-lady Drew Barrymore. Good job, cast of rad ladies. If you follow this blog and like what you read, I think you should see it. Let’s watch that trailer one more time.
I’ll admit that certain things are problematic, like the “hey, we’re at Waterloo! Hey, we’re watching The Jerk at the Drafthouse,” feel of certain scenes. And there’s certain a potential argument to be formed out of how white roller derby appears to be, based on the movie (Eve is the only woman of color I saw represented, playing Rosa Sparks, a member of the Hurl Scouts). Also, Hurl Scout teen rookie and protagonist Bliss Cavender has a coming-of-age romance with an indie rocker named Oliver that, while it ends up being far-from-idealized, is unnecessary to me. Finally, I think the movie gets a little too plot-heavy at the end — I really don’t mind a movie that focuses more on character development instead of pushing action forward. Though most of the movie was shot in Michigan, it takes place in and around Austin. We keep it relaxed here, and I feel like the movie really flies when it keeps story structure loose.
That said, I found it to be a delightful, feel-good movie with a great feminist message: be your own hero. So let’s run through why I think you should see it when it comes out later this month.
1. Ellen Page brings it as Bliss. I still don’t know if it’ll catapult her to mega-stardom, but these sorts of roles fit her like a worn-in pair of jeans.
2. Alia Shawkat plays Bliss’s bestie Pash. She a) is totally awesome and funny, b) should be in more things, c) rocks a hot vuluptuous body, and d) should be my friend.
3. Ellen and Alia are totally convincing as friends, both on- and off-screen.
4. To that end, all of the female homosocial relationships are interesting — especially the intergenerational ones Bliss forms with mentor Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), nemesis Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis), and her beauty pageant enthusiast mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden). Most of the characters, almost all of whom are female, are thoughtful and well-developed.
5. Some good dude allies, particularly coach Razor (Andrew Wilson) and proud papa Earl Cavender (Daniel Stern).
6. Interesting class touches as well. Bliss is decidely lower-middle class. Her mother works as a mail courier. Bliss’s team-mates seem to suggest similar class backgrounds. Wiig’s Mayhem is a single mom. Kick-ass stunt woman extraordinaire Zoë Bell, who plays former Olympic figure skating contender Bloody Holly appears in scrubs, suggesting that she is either a nurse or a med student. And Drew Barrymore’s Smashley Simpson plays Austin’s most popular Whole Foods bagger.
7. Neat little feminist music geek touches abound. Note that Bliss gets Oliver to start talking to her by escaping a house party scene to play an album in an empty room upstairs. Giggle at the scene when Bliss and Pash dance together at their part-time job at a local greasy spoon, reconfiguring the words to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” to be about the sad failure that is their hometown of (fictitious) Bodeen. Show your Texas pride by clapping along to Bliss and Oliver’s a cappela version of “Deep In the Heart of Texas” (we did at our screening). And beam at the realization that Bliss’s beloved Stryper t-shirt comes from her mother’s closet.
8. Girl-on-girl dancing and, I believe, implied girl-on-girl romance between Rosa Sparks and Ari Graynor’s Eva Destruction. When they shoo derby emcee “Hot Tub” Johnny (Jimmy Fallon) away from the jacuzzi at a house party after a meet, I think it’s just as much because they’re into each other as they aren’t into him.
9. Girls fall down and get bruised and get right back up. Sometimes someone helps them. Sometimes they help themselves. But they never stay down, even if they don’t have their next move plotted out yet. Always a good lesson, one that I hope will inspire many ladies to join a derby league or start playing some other sport. Fuck, now I wanna strap on some skates myself.