Review: ‘Whip It’ on Blu-ray
When people get excited about something, they blossom and their affection can become contagious. Such is the case for screenwriter Shauna Cross, who stumbled across the world of roller derby and decided to get her story into print. She wrote it first as a young adult novel, Derby Girl
and then managed to option it to Drew Barrymore’s production company. Barrymore loved the material so much she decided to turn it into her directorial debut.
Whip It [Blu-ray]
opened last fall to generally positive reviews but middling box office, vanishing without much of a splash, which is a shame because the movie is pretty good and worth your attention. Out this week from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, the movie is available in the usual formats with the Blu-ray edition containing a digital copy disc.
Much as Cross, who wrote the screen adaptation of her book, came to love the rough and tumble world, so too does Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page). A high school senior, Bliss is the dorky good girl who goes to school and lets her mother push her into competing on the pageant circuit. Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) is a former beauty queen now working as a mail carrier, eking out a lower middle class existence with her husband Earl (Daniel Stern) and is somewhat smothering with her love and attention. A chance encounter at a store acts as Bliss’ entrée into the roller derby world and after watching one competition with her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat), decides to try out. Her speed earns the awkward athlete a spot on the team and the beginning of a new world.
Pretty quickly, Bliss, now dubbed Babe Ruthless, is accepted by the team who become a circle of friends despite the disparity in their ages. Now, Bliss has to juggle school, work at the local BBQ joint, the pageants and the derby. Along the way, her arrival acts as the catalyst the team needs to evolve from losers to competitors. And she meets Oliver (Landon Pigg), the somewhat older guitarist in a band. Cue the violins.
Harden and Stern make an odd but effective couple of parents, grounding the film every time it feels ready to speed off track.
The derby girls (Kristen Wiig, Zoë Bell as Bloody Holly, Eve, and
Barrymore) clearly are having fun with their roles. Their bonds of
friendship resonate and inspire much as the deep friendship between
Bliss and Pash. Given that the film is written by a woman and directed
by a woman, the ‘Girl Power’ theme is pretty loud, but the relationships
and performances also ring true.
Cross’ script, though, so carefully follows the Three Act structure
that you feel the weight of the second act as all the highs are
replaced with one low after another, piling on with astonishing
predictability. And just as difficult as the complications are,
including the sub-plot of Bliss being only 17 plays out, the resolutions
are just a tad too pat. Actions have consequences and the movie fails
to make us feel them. Also, just how Bliss manages to juggle her various commitments is given short shrift.
Overall though, the performances and overall energy more than make up
for its flaws. By all means, high schoolers will enjoy this, and being
PG-13, its fine for the entire family.
Extras on the disc are minimal but include an Alternate Opening along
with Deleted and Extended Scenes. In watching the sixteen minutes of
cut footage, you understand that Barrymore was attempting to give you
enough about Bliss’ current life so she can move on to the next phase.
Still, the various bits and pieces deepen some of the characters and
relationships. There’s a long scene where Razor (Andrew Wilson), the
coach, quits and has to be talked back by Bliss. While it spotlights
Wilson, it really would have slowed the film’s momentum. There’s also a
short clip from Fox Movie Channel as Cross talks about how she came to
write the book and movie.