Sunday, 1 November 2009
Sports movies are usually more miss than hit. Whip It bucks that trend, thanks to an obvious yet often overlooked approach: take the time to create characters we can care about. It doesn't hurt that the sport itself is exciting, or that the film actually manages to explain what's happening in a way that makes the matches interesting to watch. But the real story here is the coming of age of seventeen year old Bliss (Ellen Page), a misfit in small town Texas who endures her mother's obsession with beauty pageants but yearns for something more in her heart. Who knew that "something more" would turn out to be a trashy sport where burly tattooed women with fake tough-guy names race around a track putting the hurt on each other?
Once Bliss sees roller derby she's in love, but while a childhood spent on skates means she's a natural fit for the last-placed team The Hurl Scouts, the age restrictions mean she has to keep her teenage status a secret - the kind of secret you know will come back to haunt her. Her growing fame as roller derby star Babe Ruthless is giving her the confidence to crash-tackle obstacles at work and school, but at home her mother (Marsha Gay harden) could be a tougher nut to crack.
As a tale of female empowerment this is pretty much by the numbers, but Page has real charm and the supporting cast (including director Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis and Zoe Bell) is strong across the board. The sports scenes are fun too, and while at close to two hours it's a little long, it is juggling a lot - what with sports troubles, family troubles, boyfriend troubles, and so on. Barrymore holds it all together well: this comes alive in the on-track scenes, but if we didn't care about the characters it wouldn't matter one bit.
Anthony Morris (this review appeared in Forte #465)