Tuesday, October 6, 2009



WHIP IT is not your typical romantic chick flick. It is a film that illustrates what a complicated, ugly, and brutal world a girl has to negotiate to become a woman. In a key moment, the main protagonist Bliss (Ellen Page) threatens to metaphorically “grow a pair,” and as she does, the film also develops the kind of balls that Tony Montana would be proud of.

Bliss is a seventeen year-old high school student who works at a nowhere restaurant with her best friend Pash (ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT’s Alia Shawkat). When Bliss sees three tattooed, tough, and self-assured roller-derby girls passing out fliers for their next tournament, she is inspired to rethink exactly who she is and what she can become. She also knows that no one will approve of her new aspiration to become a roller girl. Pash is willing to play along for a minute, but a series of roller derby-associated events place a serious strain on their relationship.

There is a vibe of constant potential danger inherent in most of Bliss’ choices throughout this film. For instance, high school girls shouldn’t be at house parties drinking with twenty and thirty-somethings. Such underlying tensions weep from various scenes like open wounds. Any seasoned viewer can see the tragedies coming in this film, but we are forced to helplessly watch them unfold, just as in real life.

WHIP IT is about the tension between parental expectations, control, and the emergence of young adult individuality. Bliss’ mother, Brooke (DAMAGE’s Marcia Gay Harden) has Bliss painfully trained to participate in beauty pageants in the hope that she will snare a decent husband and live out the traditional Texan nuclear family vision. But this is not at all what Bliss wants for herself. Daniel Stern is the most convincing I have ever seen him as Earl, Bliss’ beer-slugging father. He portrays a man who may not comprehend all of life’s variables, but he is willing to support his daughter valiantly.

But when Bliss lies about her age and joins the all-girl roller derby team in nearby Austin Texas, she puts her family, her friends, and her pre-slugged future all on the line.

In most ways, the story of WHIP IT sounds like any number of clichéd coming-of-age stories. It is, but then it isn’t. WHIP IT hits some seriously raw nerves in regards to the fraying of parental/offspring relations. Should kids do what their parents want in order to please them, or should kids do what they feel is right for themselves?

Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) takes Bliss under her wing and fits the mentor role perfectly. Bliss, AKA Babe Ruthless, goes to hell and back all while becoming a force to be reckoned with on the roller derby track.

The actors in this film PUT IT DOWN. No one slouches in this production. Every actor in this film is completely conscious and working towards making the experience as sincere as possible. Furthermore, it is clear that this film was a team effort, and kudos to director Drew Barrymore for pulling such a fantastic team together. Barrymore pulled and she got the juice out of all of them. Juliette Lewis’ mean streak as Iron Maven, Bliss’ main nemesis on the track, is painful, convincing, and dangerous. Barrymore is in the mix as well as a serious ass-kicker named Smashley Simpson. Jimmy Fallon puts in some sleaze-work as the sexually underappreciated courtside announcer Johnny Rocket. Zoe Bell (Uma Thurman’s stuntwoman and star of DEATH PROOF) also delivers a convincing portrayal of Bloody Holly.

When Bliss’ world comes crashing in on her and she has to make the hard choices, the mood of angst and turmoil is as heavy as it can possibly be. This overwrought delivery works perfectly because ultimately, this is a movie about being 17 years old, and 17 is life’s ground zero for hell on earth.

WHIP IT is being shopped as a drama/comedy. There are some light laughs that provide respite from the harder topics being presented. The movie’s title has to do with a roller derby strategy that propels a team-member to the front of the group. Bliss is metaphorically “whipped” to the front of everyone’s collective lives in this film as well. WHIP IT deals with relationships and the strains that impact them as we enter adulthood. Bliss is a character that we can all relate to, and WHIP IT is a film that should appeal to everyone regardless of gender. This is a chick flick with balls, mang.

-Mediasaurus Rex