It's Only FROCKS and ROLL (but I like It); FILM

The Mail on Sunday (London, England), April 11, 2010 | Go to article overview

It's Only FROCKS and ROLL (but I like It); FILM


Byline: Jason Solomons

Whip It Director: Drew Barrymore Certificate: 12A Time: 1hr 51mins ***

The Infidel Director: Josh Appignanesi Certificate: 15 Time: 1hr 32mins **

I Am Love Director: Luca Guadagnino Certificate: 15 Time: 2hrs 1min ****

Roller derby is back. Not that you probably knew it had ever gone away, or even existed in the first place. No matter: this wild, amateur sport merely forms the basis for Whip It, Drew Barrymore's first film as a director, and it puts sassy, sexy girl power on the film map in a way those pristine, lunching ladies from Sex And The City could never do.

For the record, roller derby is like a more modest female version of the deadly game from the 1975 James Caan movie Rollerball. This time the skaters roll around an oval track in teams, seemingly gaining points for overtaking the opposition, elbowing them out of the way or tripping them up.

The main fun really lies in the adoption of your roller persona, your 'derby name', by which normal women escape their everyday lives to become known as Condoleezza Slice, Eva Destruction or Maggie Mayhem.

Into this quasi-secret world steps rebellious suburban girl Bliss Cavendar, played with characteristic gumption by Ellen Page, who earned an Oscar nomination for Juno in 2008. Bliss is escaping another American demi-monde, the world of teen beauty pageants, which her mother (the excellent Marcia Gay Harden) forces her to enter, and which she tends to win easily.

Bliss earns her pocket money working at a local diner, the Oink Joint, where the highlight of anyone's week is to watch someone attempt to eat the giant Squealer burger: if you can scoff it in three minutes, you don't have to pay for it and your picture goes on to the Squealer Hall of Fame board.

On a trip to the bright lights of Austin, Texas, Bliss is intrigued by a hand-drawn poster advertising a roller derby meeting and sneaks off with her wise-cracking best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) to witness the game that will change her life - that's the cue for an amusing roller-skating training montage.

Soon Bliss has acquired the derby name of Babe Ruthless and, skimming over the fact that she's still at high school, she joins the Hurl Scouts, a motley collection of women who love to take part, despite the fact that they usually lose. Her team-mates include Zoe Bell (from Tarantino's Death Proof) as Bloody Holly, rapper Eve as Rosa Sparks and Drew Barrymore herself in a lovely bruised cameo as Smashley Simpson.

With her dynamism and natural skating speed, Bliss quickly becomes the team's secret weapon in their bid to finally upset their rivals, led by Iron Maven, played by Juliette Lewis, who I must say I found even more menacing than usual here.

What with battles with her parents in the run-up to the Miss Bluebonnet Pageant - oh no, it's on the same day as the derby finals - and a first love affair with Oliver (Landon Pigg), a boy from an indie band, it's all quite the comingof-age experience for Bliss.

Page handles the role's physical and verbal challenges with great comic skill, while Barrymore makes a bubbly directing debut. It's an enjoyable combination that breezes by with a kooky indie soundtrack.

American chatshow host Jimmy Fallon provides the amusing race commentaries, explaining the 'whip it' move for us, among many other rules.

He's not quite like Gig Young commenting on the gruelling dance marathons in They Shoot Horses, Don't They? but this film isn't really aiming for that kind of social comment. Instead it's about teenage dreams, clothes, female empowerment and telling your mother to let go - there's even a food fight for good measure. …

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