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HomeArts & CultureWhip It’s a predictable but fun story

Whip It’s a predictable but fun story

Contrary to popular belief, Whip It is not Juno on roller-skates. Where Diablo Cody’s Ellen Page would probably say something adorably ironic in the face of death, or some would say worse – teen pregnancy, Drew Barrymore’s Ellen would spare us the verbal diarrhea and simply kick some ass.

That is, once her skates are on. For about the first twenty minutes of the film before this fateful moment, you wonder if Page’s character, Bliss Cavendar, is a more stolid and less funny Juno: bored with no bite.
Granted, her life could use some colour. She lives in dreary Bodeen Texas with an officious pageant mom (Marcia Gay Harden) and a benign beer-bellied dad (Daniel Stern) who can’t be bothered to subdue his overbearing wife. Bliss’ sole refuge is a part time job she shares with her only friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) at a swine themed roadside restaurant. Here they trade trials, tease their Mexican manager whom they tenderly refer to as “Birdman” and serve the town special: a pulled pork sandwich the size of your head. Bliss is not happy.

So, she and mom, and (to her annoyance) her little sister – who meets with flying colours all her mother’s pageant demands to which Bliss only acquiesces – take to the road for a little shopping in Austin. It’s in a second hand clothing store that doubles as a head shop (her mother comments on the “lovely vases”) that we realize Bliss won’t be bored forever, when a bevy of derby girls roll in bearing breasts, midriffs and glossy pamphlets.

She instantly falls in love with the sport, which to my knowledge involves girls in short skirts skating around a track. Four of these, two from each team, are trying to pass as many opposing players as possible, sometimes taking each other by the arm and whipping one another forward (hence the movie’s namesake).

So Bliss puts on her old skates and tries out for Austin’s worst team, The Hurl Scouts, whose roster includes director Drew Barrymore as “Smashley Simpson” and rapper Eve as “Rosa Sparks”.
Bliss makes the team, meets a cute boy in a rock band and adopts the alias “Babe Ruthless”. And she pushes the bitchy girl at school off a banister. Things are looking up.

It’s refreshing to see Ellen Page develop into a grittier version of the character she always plays. Not only does it give her a humility we haven’t seen before, but it also hints that maybe she didn’t emerge from the womb taking mildly ironic jabs at people. This could be attributed to Barrymore, who is hilarious in her role as a blood-thirsty stoner on skates, but who has also proven herself to be a competent and intelligent director. The movie’s tender moments are so because they don’t slip into melodrama. Every girlish grievance (and there are many) is met with tears but never without a laugh.

Whip It is a story we’ve all heard before: Teen outcast with but one friend in the world finds inner strength in an alternative niche, and in doing so, finds herself. Replace the Roller derby with step dance or rocket science, and not much changes. Same story, different extra-curricular activity. But predictability isn’t always a bad thing. Knowing what’s going to happen can be fun. And Whip It is a whole lot of fun.

Grade: A-

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