Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Movie with Abe: Whip It

Whip It
Directed by Drew Barrymore
Released October 2, 2009

This movie will inevitably be compared to another film about a spunky teenager who defies social conventions and happens to also be played by Ellen Page: “Juno.” It’s hardly an unfair comparison, since the two movies are inherently alike, but that doesn’t mean that this one is a carbon copy or rip-off of the earlier film. It’s a similarly semi-artsy story about a teenager who takes an unexpected trajectory to a new life which she’s still in high school, and it’s one that’s equally entertaining and altogether a whole lot of fun, and deserves to be appreciated and experienced just as much.

The important difference that sets “Whip It” apart from its older cousin “Juno” is its focus on the world of roller derby. Disgruntled high school student slash unwilling frequent beauty pageant participant Bliss is visibly dazzled when he first sees the roller girls, and there’s a constant fascination in her eyes every time she skates onto the track or revels in the friendship of her fellow derbyites. It’s an atypical kind of sports movie, which still highlights teamwork and camaraderie among the skaters and boasts exciting derby sequences which are both thrilling and entertaining. There’s a rush that Bliss gets every time she prepares to compete, and it’s something that’s captured wonderfully by the film and established through the clear boredom Bliss exhibits in every other mundane thing she does and experiences. But the movie isn’t just about one girl’s entry into the world of sports, it’s about her path from an unfulfilled life to something far more enriching.

“Whip It” is dedicated to showcasing a free spirit both through the way it is presented and through its characters. The film features fun fonts for its title credits and actresses who aren’t the typical leading female stars usually called upon to anchor romantic comedies. Page fits this role perfectly, and it’s just as exact a fit as “Juno.” She’s sarcastic and funny, but above all determined and endearing. Alia Shawkat, best known as Maybe from “Arrested Development,” is just as spectacularly well-cast as Page, and the two of them are marvelous together. Even their characters' names, Bliss and Pash, indicate a sort of rebellion they seem to be yearning for in the mundane repetitiveness of their daily lives. Their performances indicate that they have a bright future in the world of young adult cinema, and hopefully their future roles will utilize their potential just as well. The more experienced adult ensemble provides more than ample support, and standouts include Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern as Bliss’ parents and Kristin Wiig as one of her roller derby pals. Wiig demonstrates that she’s capable of more than just her one-note “Saturday Night Live” comedic over-exaggeration, and she’s surprisingly effective at semi-dramatic acting. The least impressive performance comes from Drew Barrymore, but fortunately the first-time director wisely keeps herself mostly behind the camera and does a commendable job helming her first feature film. “Whip It” is more than just a fun field trip to the roller derby. It’s a fine film with great performances enhanced by the excitement of the roller derby and much more individualized and worthwhile than many who simply see the star of “Juno” on its marquee will give it credit for or expect.


Watch the Minute with Abe here.

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