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Monday, March 1, 2010

Whip It! (***)


A fine, feel-good, girl-power romp directed by Drew Barrymore, Whip It! skates on much of the same ground covered by Bend It Like Beckham. There's Ellen Page, a small town Texas girl who discovers herself by joining and falling "in love" with an unlikely sport, lies to her disapproving parents (when she's found out, one supports her and one doesn't), she romances a boy via the sport, and there's the big finish where both parents attend her final match and discover the pride in their daughter that's been missing from all of their lives.  Beckham did all of that in a fresher way, but Barrymore soaks Whip It! in the underground cool of Austin, Texas, and she gets the relationship details of the characters just right. I enjoyed that while Page had some natural talent at skating, she still put in the work, took the bumps and bruises, and strove to improve, though her tiny frame absorbing some of the hits she takes without injury required a lot of suspension of disbelief. Page has terrific chemistry with Alia Shawkat (Maeby from Arrested Development), who plays her best friend. Shawkat was always the most underrated member for the hilarious Bluth family and she's very good here. Kristen Wiig is substantially dialed down from her many Saturday Night Live characters and plays really good dramady as Page's mentor on skates. Barrymore gave herself an on-camera role that's more distracting than anything else, and directs Juliette Lewis to do little but snarl as Page's rival, although there's hidden depth in her animosity towards Page as well. As Page's parents, Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern navigate tricky waters and they may be the best conceived characters in the piece; seemingly stereotypical at first but revealing surprising complexities and depths of understanding towards their rebellious daughter. Whip It! also smartly anticipated that the audience knows nothing about the sport of roller derby and delivered two "here are the rules" montages. Turns out, roller derby isn't all that complicated to follow.