Starring: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig
Directed by: Drew Barrymore (debut)
Written by: Shauna Cross (“Taking 5”)
While former wild child Drew Barrymore proves to have some potential as a filmmaker, there’s still much to be desired in her directorial debut “Whip It.” She and author/screenwriter Shauna Cross (“Taking 5”) know the kind of hipster movie they wanted to make, but their ideas don’t translate into the edgy feminist bash they were hoping for.
In “Whip It,” Academy Award-nominated actress Ellen Page (“Juno”) leads the mostly all girl cast as Bliss Cavendar, a small-town Texas girl who decides she can’t bottle up her true personality any longer just to please her parents.
Bliss is not the type of girl who enjoys the beauty pageants her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) holds in such high regard, but she does them anyway because there’s really nothing else that interests her.
But when Bliss and her best friend Pash (Alia Sahwkat of “Arrested Development”) sneak away to attend a roller derby match in Austin, Bliss finally realizes what she’s been missing in her life: a stiff combination of roller skating and face bashing performed in front of hundreds of people. It only takes one night of the brutal sport for Bliss to stop her prim and proper charade and trying out for the punkish league.
What Bliss lacks in power she has in speed and therefore becomes the newest member of the last-place team known as the Hurl Scouts. But as soon as Bliss laces up her skates, puts on her helmet, and picks a witty skate-name (Babe Ruthless), the team starts to think they can win a few games. Even Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis), league bad girl and captain of the defending champs, notices a change in the misfits’ confidence and feels threatened.
It all leads to a predictable coming-of-age story that might have worked better if director Barrymore was able to actually capture the essence of the sport. On the track, there is entirely too much mediocre camerawork that takes us out of the action. We want to be riding on the skate straps of these bruisers, but instead Barrymore simply doesn’t know what angle to shoot from. Even worse than the lackluster skating scenes is when she tosses us in center ring with an unfunny Jimmy Fallon who cameos as the league’s play-by-play announcer.
The rest of the secondary characters aren’t much more exciting. Talented women like comedian Kristen Wiig (“Adventureland”), stuntwoman Zoe Bell (“Death Proof”), and even Barrymore herself are wasted and one-dimensional. Sure, they all look great doing their best Suicide Girl impressions, but Barrymore forces “Whip It” into a place reserved only for movies that 11-year-old girls would watch at slumber parties.