Review: 'Whip It': Real good

  • Article by: COLIN COVERT , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 1, 2009 - 7:18 PM

Drew Barrymore makes her directing debut with this delightful roller-derby comedy. Scene for scene and beat for beat, this roller derby crowd-pleaser crackles with joy and jubilation.

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Ellen Page stars in "Whip It"

Photo: Courtesy Darren Michaels / MCT,

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"Whip It" is smashing. Scene for scene and beat for beat, this roller derby crowd-pleaser crackles with joy and jubilation. It's a rowdy comedy, a great date movie, a female-empowerment flick guys will love, a charming character study, an object lesson in finding your path and following your dream. Like "Rocky," "Slap Shot" and "Caddyshack," it's an instant classic that transcends its sports-movie roots while grabbing every gold medal in sight.

Ellen Page is magically delicious in the role she's been looking for since "Juno." She plays Bliss, a Texas teen whose mom, a onetime beauty queen, expects her daughters to carry on the family tradition. Bliss, who is happier in funky thrift shop duds than pageant gowns, goes along with it. She's antsy but dutiful, just as she is when waitressing at the Oink Joint, the local BBQ pit. She's trying to find herself, but her small town doesn't offer many role models. When a catty schoolmate regards her trashy-fun duds, she asks if Bliss has gone "alternative." "Alternative to what?" is her innocent reply.

On a shopping trip to Austin, she encounters her role models, a bevy of fun-loving tattooed skaters distributing roller-derby fliers. Her waitressing pal Pash drives them to the big city on the pretense of a study session for the SAT. The rink is a flurry of fishnet leggings, sharp elbows and squealing fun; grrrl power in the flesh. And the ring names: Smashley Simpson, Bloody Holly, Jabba the Slut! Bliss is mesmerized, tries out and is soon the team's rising star, Babe Ruthless.

Skating incognito is a juggling act. Bliss has to keep her secret from her folks (pushy Marcia Gay Harden nicely matched with laid-back Daniel Stern) and cadge rides from the supportive but envious Pash. Meanwhile, she's massively crushing on scruffy indie-rocker Oliver (Landon Pigg, who is a heartbreaker but not boringly, conventionally handsome).

That's a lot of story to keep under control, and first-time director Drew Barrymore manages the hustle and flow like a maestro. None of the plot lines is underfed; every character comes to the screen fully fleshed. While Bliss has antagonists (Harden is a snappish Mama Bear and Juliette Lewis is formidable as a bully-girl skater), there's not a cardboard villain in sight. Everyone has their reasons. Everything turns out pretty much as you'd expect, but it gets there in imaginative ways.

Young lovers Page and Pigg are fresh and unforced; their cleverly staged swimming pool makeout is breathtaking. Kristin Wiig, hip-hop star Eve and Barrymore are fantastic as Page's teammates. Andrew Wilson is gruffly adorable as the team's coach; Jimmy Fallon shines (yes, truly) as the sleazoid ring announcer and Minneapolis musician Har Mar Superstar has a ticklish cameo as a rival team's manager. "Whip It" is a stupendous hip check to the funnybone.

  • WHIP IT

    ★★★★ out of four stars

    Rating: PG-13 for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material.

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