I remember watching roller derby on TV back in the Sixties, but I never had much interest in it because it made absolutely no sense to me. Unlike INVICTUS and rugby, WHIP IT does a pretty good job of explaining the basics of roller derby. And while I’m still unlikely to actually watch any real roller derby contests, it makes a really interesting background for what turns out to be a fine film.
Ellen Page (still adorably cute but less snarky than usual) plays a high school senior in a small town in Texas who is being pressured by her mother to compete in beauty pageants. She has no real interest in the pageants, but during a trip to Austin she discovers something that does appeal to her: roller derby. Lying about her age and sneaking around, she tries out for one of the semi-pro teams, finds out she has a real talent for it, and not only makes the team but becomes one of its stars. She even gets a boyfriend out of the deal. But naturally, complications ensue, some of them comedic, some considerably less so.
This is a really smartly written film with a good mix of laughs and drama, and it does a fine job of capturing the mundane small town life Page’s character wants to escape from. The cast is excellent, with Drew Barrymore (who also directed) and Kristen Wiig playing a couple of Page’s teammates and Juliette Lewis as the arch-villain from another team. Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern are Page’s parents. There’s also an extensive soundtrack that works very well.
My only real complaint falls into the quibble category. For a film that’s set in Texas and that tries very hard to capture a Texas atmosphere, why in the world did they shoot it in Michigan? Some authentic Texas scenery would have helped nail down the setting, which turns out to be a little generic.
But like I said, that’s a quibble. I liked WHIP IT a lot. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s well worth watching.