Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut had been something that many critics claim they did not expect. But honestly, critics, what were you thinking? she would just stop at the actor-producer hyphenate and call it a day? Why?
Luckily, Drew Barrymore thought why not? when it came to shepherding Shauna Cross’ novel, DERBY GIRL to the screen. D.B. produced the film, called the shots from video village, and even took a supporting role as Hurl Scout “Smashley Simpson.” Her multi-hyphenate efforts paid off. “Whip It” is a fun and exhilarating romp around a derby track matched with an equally thrilling soundtrack (thank you, Randall Poster!) featuring everyone from The Ramones to Tilly and the Wall, Jens Lekman and even Dolly Parton. The tunes provide the perfect segue way into the fast-paced competition sequences. Though not perfect in execution, watching these actors whip around a track allows the audiences a slick view of the action, leaving them just shy of a sensation of having eight wheels laced on their feet.
Ellen Page’s Bliss Cavendar/Babe Ruthless provides us with a newcomer’s look into the sport and an honest portrayal of a teen who doesn’t quite fit in with the popular tribe of girls, but doesn’t try to either. She embraces her lack of confidence and finds something she’s good at, roller derby, and with that, her tribe. Page, screenwriter Shauna Cross and Barrymore all deserve credit for staying true to the look and feel of the kind of teenager many of us were: decent kids, always in our heads, a little self-centered, but mostly just looking to belong to something bigger than ourselves.
Perhaps the biggest standout performance in this crew of derby girls, (which includes an awesome performance by Juliette Lewis as rival roller girl, Iron Maiden, and Alia Shawcat as Bliss’ best friend, Pash) is Kristen Wiig as fellow Hurl Scout, “Maggie Mayhem.” Wiig shines whenever she’s on screen. You want to know more about her both on and off the track. She gives us a sense of Maggie’s past (though she is furnished with a tiny back story, unlike most of the other girls) that she plays solidly throughout the film. She is the grounding force in the derby and a perfect foil to Bliss’ mother, Brooke Cavendar, played beautifully by Marcia Gay Harden. Maggie Mayhem tells Bliss what Brooke Cavendar cannot seem to handle telling her own daughter, “Put on some skates and be your own hero.”
“Whip It” reminds us all to look past some of the ridiculous movies that will define this generation of teens (High School Musical, Hannah Montana, etc) and see there is finally a soul akin to John Hughes. If “Whip It” is any indication, and I think it is, in Drew Barrymore we will finally have a director (and a woman at that) with enough sensitivity and candor to reflect images of our teen selves back at us, and who encourages us to find our inner Bliss.