For a film that basically revolves around the feminine experience and empowerment of the opposite sex, “Whip It” is pretty much one of the most humble homages to female independence I’ve seen in years. Director Drew Barrymore chronicles the evolution of the modern female through sports and shows how these warrior women are indeed one of a kind and promoting the ideals of feminism in their own ways. Barrymore never quite looks down on any one sector of women, but instead opens up a wider scope of exposition that posits every female character before us and explores how they help to influence young women of today with their strength and adversity. Even Marcia Gay Harden, a bonafide pageant mom, is not held up to scrutiny or turned in to a villain as Barrymore and Shauna Cross pull back mid-way and allow us a second look at a women who might have a more justified and well intentioned goal when pushing character Bliss in to the pageant circuit.
“Whip It” is just an all around rousing and entertaining movie that sets the spotlight on the women and the men they love by casting a who’s who of strong women in cinema. From the fierce Juliette Lewis, the sultry Ari Graynor, the seductive Eve, the more down to Earth decency of Kristen Wiig, and the scene stealing power of Zoe Bell all of whom hold up a cast of respective heavyweights like Daniel Stern, Andrew Wilson, and Drew Barrymore to show the rapid coming of age of Bliss Cavendar, a long suffering pageant princess forced in to a life of competition by her dominant mother and submissive father. Looking for much more out of her life, she’s instantly fascinated with the unabashed strength and enthusiasm of the local roller derby team the Hurl Scouts who are looking for new members for the upcoming competition. What could have easily dissolved in to a sea of chick flick clichés and sentimentalism is pushed in to the background in exchange for a more creative look at the womanly bond and their reliance on one another.
Not only win their championships and tournaments but just to get through the doldrums and monotony of the day to day world. Barrymore never elevates the female characters of her piece while relegating the male presence to heels, but instead offers the view of women who can be sexy and appealing even if they’re punching one another for kicks and throwing each other in to pools for a laugh. Ellen Page who seems to epitomize the newest movement of women’s liberation is a perfect fit for the film giving a truly strong performance among a bevvy of women discovering that women can be just as attractive whether they’re in pageants or roller derby’s. Though Page is very good, the delight is in the range of supporting performances which Barrymore craftily casts without a hint of pretension.
Andrew Wilson steals the screen quite often as long suffering Hurl Scouts coach Razor who is eccentric but a wizard on the ring, while Jimmy Fallon is hilarious as slimy announcer Johnny Rocket. Kristen Wiig gives the best performance as Maggie Mayhem the mentor to Bliss who shows her what modern society can offer an independent woman while influencing her to reach a common ground with her mom. And of course there’s no denying the charms of Zoe Bell and Eve while Juliette Lewis is delightfully nasty Iron Maven, a woman so independent she’ll do whatever it takes to hit the top of her game. “Whip It” is one of the most raucous sports films ever created with a narrative that expresses how life can affect the game and how the game can ultimately affect life and Barrymore’s direction is often top notch, especially when she brings us in to the derby rink.
“Whip It” is, in the end, not so much about growing as a person through a sport, but growing as a woman and grasping on to a persona that world can often take away with responsibilities and obligations. It doesn’t reach for an epic scale but is comfortable in its humility, and that makes it all the more stellar. Something of an underrated gem since its initial release, Drew Barrymore storms the screen with a humble yet raucous and utterly entertaining look at the modern female and their dominance for power and independence in a world that strips them of their identity and empowerment. This is the kind of chick flick I can get behind filled with a slew of memorable performances and a top notch cast, it’s yet another notch for Ellen Page’s starring career.