Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Whip It ***

Director: Drew Barrymore
Cast: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern, Juliette Lewis,
Kristen Wiig, Jimmy Fallon, Eve, Zoe Bell, Alia Shawkat
Drew Barrymore, Carlo Alban, Andrew Wilson
Landon Pigg, Ari Graynor

Very few modern actresses light the screen up like Drew Barrymore. Her adorable, quirky charm is the sort that makes almost everything she's in feel a lot sunnier, if not better, than it actually is.
It would've been almost impossible to imagine that she would be able to translate this feeling into her work behind the cameras, but in this, her directorial debut, she does just that.
You can almost see Barrymore's huge smile as she tells the story of Bliss Cavendar (Page) a seventeen year old girl living in Bodeen, Texas.
She spends her time working at a local fast food restaurant, that specializes in pork, and participating in beauty pageants to please her mom Brooke (Harden). Bliss hopes one day she'll be able to find her true calling and leave her small town.
One day while shopping in Austin she discovers roller derby. Perhaps the exact antithesis of everything her mom wants her to be, she secretly tries out for an underdog team called the Hurl Scouts and gets a spot with them.
But Bliss soon finds out that finding your own path, might affect the lives of others including her best friend Pash (Shawkat) and of course her family.
"Whip It" never tries to reinvent the wheel and if you've seen a couple of sports movies and teenage indie comedies you know how this one will go too.
What makes it delightful is Barrymore's ability to capture the energy and turn it into something akin to lightning in a jar.
Her characters, quirky as they be, aren't relegated to the usual freaks' hall-of-fame, but are adorable misfits that more often than not put a facade to fit into this world they're in.
There's Maggie Mayhem (the excellent Wiig) for example, a tough Amazon by night who has a sweet reason for ditching her teammates because her "man" waits for her at home every night.
Lewis' Iron Maven, is a ferocious player from the rival team, who has more to her than competitiveness. In one of the film's best scenes she turns out to be just a girl, who happens to be reckless on the field.
Even a character like Brooke who could've fallen into caricature is handled beautifully by the screenplay and Harden who gives her tiny flaws which she hides from her daughter (in order to protect her or just to preach?).
Page makes for a charming heroine, the actress stays within her limited range (angsty teenagers who use sarcasm to pull through) but makes Bliss something more than Juno on wheels.
Her scenes with Pigg who plays her rock interest-a hipster with a band-have a kind of innocent beauty to them that make an eventual turn actually feel painful.
Barrymore's film contains enough twee music and retro references to make anyone want to pull their hair out, but she is able to make everything work by looking at it as if it was for the first time.
Not even the "we came second!" spirit in "Whip It" is able to make it feel less liberating and enjoyable than it is, in fact its love for the underdog makes a statement.
While trying to tell a story about finding what you're good at, Barrymore has proven yet another thing she aced.


Castor said...

Good review. Waiting for the DVD impatiently so I can see what the fuss is all about.

Luke said...

Just saw this one too! I thought it was kind of impossible not to enjoy it... especially considering how much fun Marcia Gay Harden and Alia Shawkat were. I'd say you gave a very accurate description of its ups and downs.