Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Whip It (2010)

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Plot Summary: In Bodeen, Texas, an indie-rock loving misfit finds a way of dealing with her small-town misery after she discovers a roller derby league in nearby Austin.

You may be asking yourself why a twenty two year-old male would be interested in a film like Whip It, a coming-of-age story for teenage girls, but I’ve been looking forward to seeing this film for months. Three things in particular stood out for me, first of all being that it stars Ellen Page (who is clearly one of the most attractive actresses around at the moment). It’s also directed by veteran actress Drew Barrymore getting behind the lens for the first time and the trailer and subject matter gave off a really interesting alternative, punk vibe. Both Page and Barrymore are impressive here, and it’s certainly a good film, but what Whip It lacks is anything to truly set it apart from the millions of other coming-of-age films available.

One thing that Whip It cannot be faulted for is its soundtrack which is pitch-perfect from start to finish. Barrymore has chosen an eclectic selection of rock, punk and indie songs from artists such as The Strokes, Radiohead, Peaches and The Ramones which all compliment the ‘alternative’ and energetic atmosphere of the film well. In addition to these licensed tracks The Section Quartet (best known for doing orchestral versions of popular rock songs) provides a fitting original soundtrack which never overdramatizes what’s on screen. The film is also very funny in parts. Whether it be Ellen Page’s Bliss turning up to a beauty pageant with blue hair, or the roller derby celebrating their reputation as losers with the utmost passion, there are some really good lines and comedic moments throughout. The narrative set-up and basic storyline are also fairly unique, I couldn’t name you another film about a teenage girl who joins a roller derby team, and is well portrayed for audiences unfamiliar with the sport.

Scenes of the roller derby matches are exciting , well shot and depicted with a real sense of enthusiasm. In fact Barrymore does a very good job at her first directing gig and rarely makes any of the usual amateur mistakes or awkward directorial missteps. It seems as if all her time around film-makers has paid off because, other than the small scale of the film, nothing about Whip It would lead you to believe that this was someone’s first film. She’s also managed to assemble a highly credible cast for her cinematic d├ębut. Ellen Page isn’t exactly stretching herself here but she doesn’t phone it in either and Juliette Lewis looks as if she’s as happy to be acting again as we are to see her doing so. It’s Marcia Gay Harden who gets the stand out role though, her performance as the controlling mum whom slowly grows to understand Bliss’s adolescent angst is portrayed with the perfect combination of wisdom and anxiety.

Where Whip It fails, however, is in terms of the core storytelling. Strip away the ‘alternative’ focus and the roller derby theme and it’s pretty much your cardboard cut-out coming of age story. Bliss is forced into an activity she hates by her mother, rebels and finds a somewhat dangerous new hobby (not to mention boys and alcohol etc.) and grows as person because of it. Shauna Cross, writer of the source novel and screenplay, doesn’t really try and break new ground with the genre and you’re left feeling a little short changed at the end of the day. Additionally, Barrymore and Cross don’t attempt to experiment with form in any context whatsoever which leaves the film feeling a little pedestrian. I’m not asking for Lynchian levels of experimentation here but a little use of style would have gone a long way. Nevertheless, Whip It is a decent rights-of-passage film with an indie twist that will please likeminded audiences who are going through, or have already gone through, this particular moment in their lives.

Final Verdict: 7/10

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