‘Whip It’ a good, girly time for viewers

By David Orlikoff

It’s not the ensemble cast, indie soundtrack or rowdy action that take center stage in Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut Whip It, but her own ideas of feminism told through metaphors of beauty pageants and roller derby. Ellen Page stars as Bliss Cavendar, a budding young woman who isn’t sure what she wants to do with her life, but knows it doesn’t involve her mom’s dream for her to compete in beauty pageants.  After mustering up the courage, Bliss forms the roller derby team “Hurl Scouts” and plays under the name “Babe Ruthless.”

The film gets off to a rocky start as the uninspired Bliss struggles against generic small town pressures of normalcy. Things get better when convention kicks in and the film coasts on its underdog sports theme. Shauna Cross, a real-life roller derby player, adapted her novel of the same name to create the screen play. It’s safe to say she knows more about young girls and roller derby than she does about crafting an intricate narrative, but the material is interesting enough to overcome a few shortfalls.

The ensemble cast relies on its strong female characters while allowing a few men some interesting roles. Page plays the same willful yet vulnerable indie girl she did in Juno, but abandons that fantastical Nuevo-cockney dialect in favor of bolstered humanism and realism. Her memorable moment is a sexy underwater scene that’s sure to excite boys in the audience.  Alia Shawkat of “Arrested Development” plays Bliss’ best friend Pash, representing the quirky, nerdy side of the indie-girl psyche. When questioned about her ability to drive to Austin, Texas, Pash tells Bliss, “I give my parents straight A’s, I get freedom.” Barrymore, though now directing, still sneaks her way into the frame as fellow Hurl Scout “Smashley Simpson.” Her character is an exaggeration of her role in Charlie’s Angels; a plucky tomboy with more guts than beauty and wisdom combined. Her self awareness brings her to a wonderfully hammy performance at one time, literally standing up and yelling, “Food fight!”

The film’s soundtrack is its own character, setting the mood and carrying some emotional weight. It sets up the indie framework under which this film operates. From old favorites such as The Ramones and The Breeders, to newer bands like The Go! Team and The Raveonettes, the music strikes the right balance between hardcore girl-power pop and indie folk.

The feminism ideology presented is more practical than intellectual.Girls are still the object of boys’ desires, but they take pleasure in denying them.

The men are reduced to one-dimensional, lustful beings while the women are fully formed, multi-faceted humans who engage in art, sports and some traditional femininity.

Too much to take seriously at times, Whip It can always be enjoyed ironically. But the likable characters and indie aesthetic just as often pull the audience into the realm of genuine enjoyment. It’s a flawed film, but a lot of fun.