Whip It

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Posted October 1, 2009 in Film

“This is more than fishnets,” growls a roller derby vet to the fresh meat auditioning for a slot on Austin’s Hurl Scouts, a tough, brawling team led by Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Rosa Sparks (Eve), Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell), and Smashly Simpson (Drew Barrymore, also making her directorial debut). Shauna Cross—the real life Maggie Mayhem—adapted her novel about the sport for the screen, and it works best as an infomercial for the game. Sweat and bruises are here as glamorous as the vampy eye shadow the ladies pile on before each bout. If you don’t know how roller derby works, Cross has wedged in the clunky exposition that explains why it’s advantageous for rivals to clock each other in the gut. What Barrymore gets is why women play: it’s fun, it’s bonding and there’s beer afterwards. For the Hurl Scouts, winning is an afterthought. That drives coach Razor (Andrew Wilson) crazy—and thrills foe Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) of the Holy Rollers—but eventually the flick starts chugging along the familiar road to life lessons about pride, grit and team work. As Bliss Cavendar, a.k.a. Babe Ruthless, the newest (and secretly underage) member of the squad, Ellen Page is once again alternagirl adorable. Mom and Dad Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern see her as a pageant queen-in-training, but Bliss and best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) are desperate to break out of their small Texan town where they work at a BBQ joint with a pig on the roof. (Cross and Barrymore think subtlety is lame-o.) Bliss doesn’t yet know what “alternative” is, but judging by the way she mixes striped tights with Stryper shirts, she must spend a lot of time online. Though the plot is lame and the hip cred too hard won, Whip It has one of the best girl casts of the year—you yearn to have Zoe Bell punch you in the shoulder as a congrats for a good skate. You don’t leave wanting to pick up the DVD, but you do want to pick up a set of dumbbells.

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