The depiction of how amazing, energetic and full of adrenaline life can be through a pair of skates is absolutely wonderful.
When I saw that Drew Barrymore directed a film starring Ellen Page, I couldn’t wait to see what they would accomplish together. After being a fan of Drew Barrymore for years, and loving Ellen as Juno, my first instinct was that I would either love the film or have my hopes for something epic dashed by a poor storyline or bad supporting actors. However the screenplay, adapted from the novel Derby Girl by Shauna Cross, gave Page the perfect character to portray and a great narrative to support her. With an awesome storyline about a teenage girl fighting against her mother’s wishes to become a beauty queen by joining a roller derby team, I did have high expectations about what would be produced. I am pleased to say that Whip It did not disappoint, despite what box office figures may have said.
The film begins with Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) dying her hair blue while her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) waits anxiously for her to appear on stage at the latest beauty pageant she has entered Bliss into. When she finally emerges, the crowd of pageant-goers and contestants all fall silent, troubled by the sight of her. She does not seem to appear affected by the judgement she is receiving, more uncomfortable to have to endure unnecessary attention.
On a shopping trip with her mother, Bliss encounters three roller derby girls flying past her leave a flyer to promote their first match of the season. Bliss, and her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat), eager to escape their small town drudgery, head over to Austin to witness a night of kick-ass entertainment. Confronted with a world so different from the one imposed upon her by her mother, Bliss immediately falls in love with the spectacle of roller derby; a world much more in tune with her personality than beauty pageants. Approaching Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) of the Hurl Scouts roller derby team at the end of the game, she admits that they are her “new heroes”. Maggie tells Bliss that she should try out for the team so that she can be her “own hero”.
Whip It depicts a girl struggling to break free from having to conform to her mother’s fifties female idealism, and of course Ellen Page is the perfect rebellious figure to portray such a character. With the words of Maggie Mayhem encouraging her, she attends the try-outs and successfully achieves a place on the team. At first Bliss is quite timid and doesn’t grasp that roller derby is a ‘contact sport’ – she shies away from confrontation and aggression. However, determined to be accepted as part of the team, her courage and skill improves and the team nickname her “Babe Ruthless”.
After Bliss is christened into the group her confidence to challenge the nuisances in her life almost consumes her entire personality. Nothing holds her back from telling or showing people how she feels about them. Bliss meets Oliver (Landon Pigg), the guitarist and singer for a local rock band, and falls head over heels for his musical talent and boyish charms. Her relationship with Oliver offers one of the most unique moments of beautiful choreography during the film. The happy couple dive, fully clothed, into an abandoned indoor swimming pool. Bliss and Oliver embracing underwater gave has a wonderful energy as they playfully undressed – dancing to a melody only they understand.
Despite Bliss’s awakening, her mother’s staunch idealism is ever-present and she constantly meets opposition from her parents’ due to their expectations. When her mother discovers that rather than fulfilling her own dreams as a beauty pageant queen, she has been pursuing her own dream as a roller derby pin up girl, their disapproval of her new identity as “Babe Ruthless” leaves her little choice other than to leave home. At this point, Bliss’s life goes from bad to worse; her disobedient attitude towards almost everything causes her to experience a lot of hardship.
Throughout the film, Bliss undergoes harsh realities and severe consequences for her new-found care-free attitude, but with this life experience comes comedy, friendship, and confidence building, not only for Bliss, but the audience as well as we relate to her. Page’s dry humor, first seen in Juno, is well-suited to the role and her enthusiasm makes one want to dust off those old skates and hit the streets.
Drew Barrymore has assigned Ellen Page a perfect character; Ellen defines ‘Girl With Attitude’ to the point of pure awesome and thus everything about Bliss just screams Ellen. While I don’t believe Ellen Page was typecast from Juno, there are many similarities between the two characters. Characteristics that are played to perfection by Ellen Page.
Roller derby, a sport I’d never experienced in film before, provides the perfect backdrop to this coming of age tale. Drew Barrymore and Shauna Cross’s depiction of how amazing, energetic and full of adrenaline life can be in a pair of skates is absolutely wonderful. This movie is one I will cherish, and will be added to my list of films to watch when confused about the meaning of life or how to raise my kids.