Fun, light, but not forgettable, Whip It is Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut about a small town Texas girl who eschews her smothering mother’s beauty pageant dreams for the shit-kicking brutality of girls’ roller derby.
Ellen Page, who is turning into her generation’s most important actress, plays Bliss, who’s anything but, and tired and weary of pageant competition. One day, she answers an add for derby try-outs and, based on her preternatural speed, makes the team and is monikered as Babe Ruthless. Along the way, Babe makes new friends who all have awesome derby names like Smashley Simpson (Barrymore herself) and Rosa Sparks. And Maggie Mayhem, played by the terrific Kristen Wiig, gets some of the movie’s best dialogue (“You think you’re gonna sleep with your regional manager and he won’t give you crabs…Have you ever had crabs?”).
It’s standard, predictable sports movie stuff, with the requisite last-minute appearance of a loved one at the “big game.” But the screenplay, by former derby girl Shauna Cross, is sharp and witty, and the actors here have a lot of fun with their roles. Particularly delightful is Juliette Lewis (yes, that Juliette Lewis), who chews the scenery as Babe’s archenemy, Iron Maven.
And there’s some great derby action along the way, as the girls smash and bash one another to floor and into guard rails. I don’t know how accurately the bouts were filmed; but let’s just say that I wouldn’t want to meet most of these girls–with their tattoos and bulging biceps–in a dark alley. Good times.