by M. Faust
It’s hard to believe that a dull movie could be made out of a subject as exploitable as roller derby, but we live in an age of endless miracles. Roller derby, for those of you who may be unfamiliar, is a team-sport equivalent of professional wrestling, like hockey but less respectable, in which women with fanciful names and rink personas skate around trying to knock each other out of the way. (That’s not actually how points are scored, but it’s what fans come to see.) It’s never been a hugely popular sport, but it’s been around for most of the last hundred years and makes a comeback every few decades or so. Writer Shauna Cross became enamoured of an Austin version of it as a Texas teen and wrote a young adult novel, Derby Girl, based on her own experiences in the league. (At least I assume the book was for the adolescent market: I can’t imagine anyone older than 15 reading it all the way through.) As directed in her behind-the-camera debut by Drew Barrymore, this film version has one giant insurmountable problem: the casting of Ellen Page in the lead role, a misfit teen raised to compete in beauty pageants but drawn to the empowering thrills of the bad girls in the roller derby. She may have the sarcastic attitude down pat, left over from Juno, but she is never for one minute remotely believable as a skater out for blood. This could have been a much more entertaining movie had it given more time to the ensemble cast that plays her teammates, among them Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis, Eve, former stuntwoman Zoe Bell, and Barrymore herself, each more interesting than the film’s wan star. Instead, Whip is two hours of teenage clichés, from the mother who doesn’t understand to the best friend who won’t be there forever, from the loving but clueless dad to the first boyfriend who’s cute but a dog. Teenage girls may well love it—they’re who it seems to have been made for. I only wish the MPAA would come up with a rating warning adults away from movies that aren’t meant for them.
Watch the trailer for Whip It
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