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Whip It

Film Four Stars
You have to be a little sceptical of Whip It, it's Drew Barrymore's second film and is about female roller derby. It almost has me asking “what could go wrong?” in a sarcastic tone. Well if that had been asked of me the answer would be very clear, almost nothing. For what Barrymore has managed to make is an enjoyable and entertaining film that delivers fun and enjoyment as well as something a little deeper than just the story blurb suggests.

This is Barrymore's first time directing a feature, and she's clearly showing that she can go much further with her career behind the camera than in front of it, and although she does take a role in Whip It, it's a small role which doesn't detract from her job in hand, a job she performs superbly well.

Plot.pngThe story is a pretty simple one. A young woman, played by Ellen Page, from a small town outside Austin is following in her mother's footsteps as a beauty pageant entrant, however the early signs are that she's rebelling, for when she's out of costume she's dressing darker, scruffier and more goth-esque than her mother would like. Still she's not self-confident enough to stand up to her and find her own life.

It's while out shopping with her mother, wonderfully played by Marcia Gay Harden, that she sees some girls come into the shop on roller skates, turning and spinning as they glide in and out of the racks of clothes, exuding the confidence she so clearly craves.

So she decides to go along and see what it's all about, and discovers she has a natural flair, she's fast. She begins practising and before long she's in the team and taking the limelight from one of the other main competitors in the league, Iron Maven played by Juliette Lewis. Yes, they all have really cool names.

Unfortunately the team that she joins isn't really a winning team, in fact they're a losing team and struggle to even reach second last in the championship, not that they're too bothered watching Iron Maven's team win every year.

It's when Bliss Cavendar appears as Babe Ruthless that the team begin to think that they could win, and with the help of their coach they being to take it seriously and begin to win.

However friends, family, and the fact that she lied about her age to get into the championship are all going to come back to haunt Bliss.

TheFilm.pngWhat a triumph for Drew Barrymore, while she might have the ready made material in Shauna Cross' novel and screenplay, she builds it beautifully on screen and with the help of a fantastic cast of Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Juliette Lewis, Alia Shawkat, Kristen Wig, Eve, Zoe Bell, Daniel Stern and Andrew Wilson.

Ellen Page is the star of the film, delivering a great performance that initially conveys the shyness and lack of confidence of the character very naturally. As she slowly builds her confidence through the film we get to see a very natural and believable progression, there are no fits and starts or turnarounds in the character, instead there are some clear moments where she takes chances and grows in confidence and stature, and they so easily endear you to the character.

There are some spectacular moments for both her and script, and indeed Marcia Gay Harden, who plays her mother, and the scene where she finally and utterly rebels against her is something that tears up the screen and you can really feel the power of their performances in those moments.

It's also worth mentioning the scene where they reconcile, which is again touchingly scripted and very well acted. It allows the actresses to open up a little more, particularly Harden, and connect which delivers some touching moments for the audience. There's also not a complete reconciliation here, and there are still issues to be addressed in the final of the beauty pageant and the final of the roller derby that aren't all nice and neatly tied up just because the characters begin talking again.

The relationships between mother, daughter and her father are very well scripted and performed, and there are nice little moments that have been kept in the film to allow the characters to bond and connect together which might not mean a lot to many directors and editors, but together with the rest of the film make the progression of the relationships very real and easily identifiable.

The film has a slow start to it, but it's an enjoyable one as it takes time to set the characters and the situation, something that really pays off later when the story really does get going.

Juliette Lewis is fantastic as the nemesis of Babe Ruthless and even she is presented in a very real light, the way her role plays out is a little different to what you would expect from the film, and it's welcome too. Drew Barrymore is a fun character who has some great lines too, and Kirsten Wig plays an important role and does a great job of playing it straight.

Whip It does a great job of tugging at the heartstrings in the smallest of moments, even the scene where we see the father hammering in the sign at the end is a wonderful little touch. It just shows how great focussing on the characters, the relationships and the reality of a story can be and the great positive effect it can have. It's certainly delivered a great film in Whip It.

Another great aspect is the feeling of camaraderie that Barrymore, Cross and the actresses have managed to build, something that the closing credits will show came out between takes as well as in front of the camera. Barrymore has managed to gather a great bunch of actresses to play the roller derby ladies, and they do just that superbly well, pulling you into their little group and wishing them forward to win, however formulaic that might seem to you to begin with.

There are some great messages that come through the script and the film that are told really well and I think all ages of men and women can identify with, and again this reflects well on Shauna Cross and her writing and creation of characters.

I think what surprised me the most is just how much I became involved in the film, how much fun I had, and how much I wanted to join the roller derby girls afterwards – and that's not just because we had the very good looking Glasgow roller derby ladies in the cinema with us.

However it's not all good. I have to now turn to the aspect where I think that Barrymore didn't manage to match up to the rest of the film were the scenes of the roller derby itself. Here I felt we really didn't get a sense of the game being played out nor of the tension and personal involvement in the plays.

The action was limited, and when we did see it, there were clips and snippets which didn't follow the action and plays as well as I had hoped. I didn't feel the urgency and desire to win taken onto the circuit as much as it had played out off the rink.

You can appreciate that the roller derby sequences were really hard to choreograph and film, but a little bit more cohesion and story to the action on the rink would have improved the film no end, and possibly allowed more derby action to be seen.

Finally, before I sum up, I have to point out the excellent soundtrack which turned me onto Young MC's Know How, I have a few of his songs but that one really kicked me into gear at the end of the film. Superb.

Overall.pngDrew Barrymore has made a bold statement with this film, she's shown she can direct, and not just an average film either, something rather different, a film that focuses by far on characters and relationships. She, and Shauna Cross' story and script, have done a superb job to deliver an engaging, exciting and enjoyable film that fires you into action and gets the blood pumping.

Pulling together some cool on screen talent, Page and Harden really grab your attention, and despite some big scenes the film still manages to find time for the subtle, for the small moments that mean a lot more than they seem.

Whip It is a really enjoyable film and I do recommend it. Get out and see it when it's released, you'll not regret it. Then find out where your local team plays.

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Movable Type 3.34