I was excited to see the new film Whip It for a number of reasons. First and foremost it was shot locally, and featured a number of the Detroit Derby Girls. I’ve been a loyal fan of the local Roller Derby organization for the last year and a half, and was glad to see our local girls get to be part of what I kinda hope is going to be the first film about the current Derby Landscape.
(that's Detroit Derby Girls Killbox and Racer McChaser on the right side of this image)
The film starts the always watchable Ellen Page (who everyone knows from Juno, but you really need to see Hard candy to get her range) and she delivered great, young, youthful non-manic-indie-pixie performance that anchors the film. Page plays a small town Texas high school student who competes in the local beauty pageants at the behest of her mother—only it is really not her thing. One day she sees a flyer for Roller Derby and sets out with her friend to take in a bout. She of course is inspired to try out and becomes the rookie phenom of the Hurl Scouts. Working from the screen play by written by Shauna Cross and based on Cross' novel Derby Girl first time director Drew Barrymore gives us a coming of age story,a first romance story, a sports movie, and a dealing with your parents movie all in one. Some of it is more successful than others.
What I liked: The performances were mostly first rate. Page is charming, and enduring and note perfect as the every girl. Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern are first rate as her parents, one of the lesser known Wilson brothers as the coach Razor is great a comic coach. Zoё Bell (Zena) and Juliette Lewis (The Running Kind) are maybe the only of the actresses who could hold their own in a real bout. Kristen Wiig really gives the best and most illuminating performance of the film, with her wholly believable portrayal of a single mom, who acts as an older sister to Ellen Page when she needs it the most.
There are a few things about the film that weren't so great. The romantic subplot could have been left out, but the swimming pool scene was well executed. If that subplot had been jettisoned then the mother daughter stuff could have been explored in more depth and also the family dynamatic of the derby team could have had more screen time. The derby scenes while well shot, and this was my local Derby Girls got their screen time and to show their stuff. They were exciting and fun, and put the watcher right on the track.