Directed by Drew Barrymore
I didn’t go into Whip It necessarily expecting the machismo and brutality of Rollerball (1975) but was it too much to ask for the guilty pleasures of Kansas City Bomber (1972)? In that film, Raquel Welch performed many of her own hair-pulling stunts (production shut down when she broke her wrist), and while the actresses in Whip It also do their own skating, one never has the sense that these women are in any danger of hurting themselves, let alone each other.
Admittedly, this is in keeping with first-time director Drew Barrymore’s particular style of girl power. As exemplified in the Charlie’s Angels films, which she produced, Barrymore likes to temper violence and feminism with cuteness. Depending on your perspective, the results can be charming or galling.
In Whip It, Ellen Page is credible as a both a teenage misfit and a roller derby prodigy drawn into the Austin indie-rock scene. (She even looks committed barreling down suburban streets in a de rigueur practice montage.) Indeed, to Barrymore’s credit, the acting in Whip It is uniformly strong, especially from Juliette Lewis, who as Page’s badass older rival, Iron Maven, perpetually tries to steer this sentimental material in darker directions.
The scenes between Page’s character, known on the rink as Babe Ruthless, and her disapproving parents (Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern) are played with emotional honesty. But uncertain of what tone she wants to establish, Barrymore too often contrives yet another youth/sports movie cliché, leading us toward a championship game and a denouement that’s never in doubt.
Opens October 2