Whip It!

Drew Barrymore's directorial debut is a charming, coming of age, rockabilly, retro, grunge skatefest - and I loved it. I don't know anything about roller-derby, in fact, I didn't know it existed. Now I do, I need to join a team, yes, even though I bruise like a peach.

Bored, quiet and dutiful Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) lives in a small-town in the Lone Star state and seems restless to escape. Her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) has coerced her into a world of beauty pageants and she blandly participates so not to upset her. On a chance evening out she meets the 'Hurl Scouts' a local roller-derby team, and taking her first steps towards rebellion, she tries out for the team and wins a place. In the roller-derby-drome Bliss comes of age, learning who she really is, and relishing in the freedom the games brings. However, a conflict with a rival team mate the Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) threatens to expose her world of lies to her parents and friends.

Make life happen
This film is hipster, but not too cool for school. The dialogue is slick, but (thankfully) has none of the verbal gymnastics of Juno, and was written by the original Maggie Mayhem, LA Derby Dolls star, Shauna Cross. And like the screenwriter herself, this is a sweet film about an underdog finding their place in society (Shauna grew up in Austin, moved to LA, joined a Derby team) and I think the tag line is very fitting 'Be Your Own Hero'.

In my humble secondary school teaching experience, too many teenagers are waiting for the world to pay them that favour they feel they deserve. They're bored, restless and got little confidence to do anything about it. This movie unequivocally says, no one is going to do it for you. If you're bored, do something about it. If you want to find out who you really are, then get stuck into life. If you're lonely, join a team. Travel, be rebellious, stretch yourself, be independent. The results are clearly worth is, as Bliss finds a new family (without abandoning her old) and really uncovers a new and very exciting path for her life.

Dead mother syndrome
My friend Helen complains about how many films have a 'dead mother' literally and figuratively. She feels too many film makers have to get rid of the sensible, nagging woman before the fun can really start. Not so in this film.

At first glance, Bliss's mother, seems to perpetuate the southern belle nuclear family, making her girls pretty to compete in pageants, act like 'ladies' and generally continue life as if the 1950s never ended. The problem that had no name now does, and different ideas of feminism pop up throughout the movie.

1. Maggie Mayhem is a single Mom, who is the sensible, warning voice of experience to Bliss.

2. Iron Maven is older and bemoans to Bliss that she didn't start the sport until 33, making the point that women of all ages are always trying to find their place in society. Her ultimate respect for Bliss shows that fighting other women out of envy or spite ultimately only harms women, so isn't it better to join forces? Or at least, take your revenge on the track.


3. This league is so far removed from the dainty virtues of the pageants, yet the women uphold the best aspects of femininity: caring, loyalty, courage.

4. Bliss finds her self respect through the support of the women in the league, and finds the courage to ditch her cheating, flaky boyfriend in a classy but satisfying way. Their romance is sweet and PG appropriate (a nice change) but Bliss's revenge edge, shows Hollywood can present girls to be something more than sexualised, insipid, passive people pleasers. Not your average teen-romance flick. Huzzah!

4. Finally, back to Bliss' mother. She's not the overbearing housewife stereotype, but in one touching scene, we see she is actually secret rocker, secret smoker and honest, blue collar worker with more in common with Maggie Mayhem than the starched wives of the country club pageants.

Sports training montage
This film does follow the convention of every sports movie, and trundles along (or should that be skates along?) at a pleasingly predictable pace. The joy comes not from predicting the plot (which is obvious) but in the little moments of Bliss's victory. We see her nervously uncover her Barbie skates for the try outs. Get up after her first fall. Practice for hours outside in the street. Take a secret bus ride. Stay out at a party. Have her first kiss. Stand up to her friend. Defend her choices in life. Challenge her parents, and finally come out on top, sure of her self and happy to face her future.

As we watch the growth of this young protagonist we see Bliss ultimately triumphs without trampling those around her. A perfect bildungsroman... with a rocking soundtrack.

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