Pros: Page, Harden, Stern, Wiig, Fallon lead fine ensemble cast; story, direction
Cons: Says little new about sports
Bliss Cavendar has dreams that run contrary to the ones her mother has for her. Year after year, Mrs. Cavendar enters Bliss in beauty pageants, but Bliss has never been anything but second best. The contests, over time, have become less and less meaningful to her. A shopping trip with her best friend leads her to try something new. She learns of an athletic endeavor she'd like to try. She impresses the adults in charge, and soon becomes a star in the league. In the process, Bliss lifts her team to unprecedented heights in "Whip It."
Ellen Page plays Bliss, a high school senior in Bodeen, Texas. When she's not busy with school and pageants, she works at a restaurant with her friends Pash (Alia Shawkat) and Birdman (Carlos Alban). On an off day, Pash and Bliss go to Austin, where they meet skaters and see flyers for roller derby league tryouts. Bliss gets a glimpse of the league, and goes home to work on her roller skating. Bliss decides to sneak to a tryout, telling her mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden), that she's taking SAT preparation classes. She makes the league as a member of the Hurl Scouts, a team coached by Razor (Andrew Wilson) that has never won a bout. She lies to her coach and teammates, though, about her age.
She rides the bench until the final minute of another Scouts loss. Bliss impresses with her ability as a jammer, and the Scouts start to win with her scoring maneuvers. Razor gives Bliss her roller derby name - Babe Ruthless. As Babe's star rises, she is chosen for the league's poster. She meets Oliver (Landon Pigg), an Austin musician and skating fan, and starts to date him. When his band goes on tour, she learns that she's not Oliver's only woman. As Babe's star rises, she gets a rival in Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis), the jammer for the undefeated Holy Rollers team. Word eventually reaches Brooke and her husband, Earl (Daniel Stern) about Babe Ruthless. Bliss must now convince her parents to let her keep skating, as a conflicting event approaches.
"Whip It" marks the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore, who has a small part as Babe's teammate, Smashlee Simpson. It's a fun, fast-paced, and insightful look at roller derby in the 21st century, where its players often work 9-to-5 jobs that are quite different from the roles they play in the rink. It's a sport that provides an escape for all. Babe finds headgear that she likes - and it's not a tiara. Shauna Cross, who wrote the book on which "Whip It" is based, makes room for explaining the sport's rules, as well as the underground nature of it. Bliss doesn't exactly fit the profile of the other skaters, but these ladies respect Babe's ability and competitive nature.
Page, as she did in "Juno," plays Bliss/Babe with a wonderful balance of sweetness and resolve. She is a girl who has found her pageant. Through sports, she finds a connection with Earl, who stays at work late to follow games. Stern has a blast as Earl, the family sports nut. Harden is also strong as Brooke, the beauty queen turned letter carrier who doesn't totally understand Bliss's wishes, but wants to do right by her. Kristen Wiig has a great small role as Maggie Mayhem, Babe's teammate who understands Bliss and her parents, and Jimmy Fallon is colorful as rinkside announcer Johnny Rocket. Other talent in the ensemble includes Eve (as Rosa Sparks), Zoe Bell (as Bloody Holly), and Kristen Adolfi and Rachel Piplinca (as the Manson Sisters 1 & 2).
Bliss Cavendar never won beauty competitions, but Babe Ruthless was a winner on skates. She may be the jammer, but she helps to make all of the Hurl Scouts winners. "Whip It" is a fine tale of a team who finds a star, then finds they're not just going around in circles.
Lean-N-Mean VIII: http://www.epinions.com/content_5357215876
Thanks Grace and Jennifer.