I’ll probably get shot for admitting this, but I can’t lie. I was that one in a million person who didn’t really enjoy the “quirks” (it wasn’t quirky!) of “Juno” when it came out in 2007. And after painfully watching Ellen Page try to swallow a script that tried way too hard to be original, I sort of wrote her off for a while.
But, things change, people grow and now I freaking love Ellen Page.
Her latest role in “Whip It,” Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, was not only badass enough to make me want to become a roller derby girl, it was just an all-around spot-on performance. Page takes on the lead role as Bliss Cavender, an outcast teen from the small town of Bodeen, TX, working at The Oink Joint diner with her best friend, Pash (Alia Shawkat, “Arrested Development”). Bliss is persistently pushed into beauty pageants by her mother who is stuck in the past, played by Marcia Gay Harden.
Despite being pressured by her mom and hating pageants, which is shown when she dyes her hair blue for one showcase, Bliss still loves and cares about her family – something you wouldn’t expect from an angsty teen film.
On a shopping trip to Austin one day, she stumbles upon a flyer for a roller derby in an empty warehouse. When she and Pash end up going — without their parents’ knowledge, of course — she ends up telling Maggie Mayhem (Kristin Wiig), a team member of Team Hurl Scouts, that they were her new heroes. Mayhem’s response acted as the catalyst for Bliss’s newfound hobby: “Be your own hero.”
Needless to say, she did, but not without a few bumps in the road. These included but were not limited to: becoming the target of another roller derby team (The Holy Rollers), lying about her age, almost losing her best friend, suffering pageant-derby conflicts and, of course, obligatory boy problems.
Though Page’s acting really shines in this feature, the fact is that the entire supporting cast nailed their roles. Kristin Wiig of “Saturday Night Live” leaves absurd comedic side behind in New York as she surprisingly takes on an inspiring role as Bliss’s mentor and teammate.
Juliette Lewis, who plays Iron Maven of the rival team, fulfills all of the requirements for the role of “bitch on the other team.” Even Jimmy Fallon, who I thought had lost contact with his funny bone (Late Night with Jimmy Fallon, anyone?) went back to his ridiculous comedic “SNL” roots for his role as “Hot Tub” Johnny Rocket.
And finally, Barrymore, who doubles as director and as a cast member in this comedy, plays her usual tomboy, wild-child role. Though we’ve seen her revive this character many times before, this time around was a little different; it was more believable and therefore funnier, because I think she actually felt like a wild-child with the atmosphere of this film.
But with most of the film being shot in a roller derby rink, how could the cast not feel a little rowdy? Barrymore catches the love/hate camaraderie between roller derby leagues flawlessly (I used to watch roller derby as a pre-teen…don’t ask). Although they beat each other up on the rink and got jealous of opposing teams, in the end, they all practice in the same warehouse, go out to eat together and support each others’ accomplishments.
But with the film centering on an overwhelmingly estrogen-driven plot and cast, I think it’s safe to say that the female audience can gain a lot more out of this than the males. While both would definitely enjoy the quirky humor that makes its way from the opening to the closing credits, women can also appreciate the emotional aspects of Bliss and her teenage feats. But to you guys out there: hot girls in revealing clothing beating each other up? Yeah?
The type of comedy that “Whip It” utilizes is another aspect I loved about the film. Everything was so natural that I felt like I was watching a conversation between myself and a friend. When watching tiny details on the screen, something as small as Page scratching her leg while looking through records, made all the difference in the mood of the film.
To top it all off, the film’s soundtrack is pretty fun to listen to. It gets your adrenaline running during the film’s faster paced scene — definitely roller derby, angry girl material.
So, hand me a pair of neon fishnet stockings, a fresh stick of black eyeliner and shiny new a pair of Barbie roller-skates. Let’s kick some ass.