The Commercial Appeal - Go Memphis - - Go See - By John Bei­fuss

/ bei­fuss@com­mer­cialap­

A TRI­UMPH ON EV­ERY LEVEL for de­but­ing di­rec­tor Drew Bar­ry­more, “Whip It” is a whip-smart com­ing-of-age fa­ble of fe­male empowerment that pro­vides Ellen Page with a wor­thy post-“Juno” star ve­hi­cle and movie­go­ers with a funny and mov­ing film that com­pares fa­vor­ably to “Six­teen Can­dles,” “Rock ’n’ Roll High School,” “Val­ley Girl” and other as­tute but un­pre­ten­tious ar­ti­facts from the last great hey­day of teen cin­ema, dur­ing Bar­ry­more’s child­hood.

Hip but not smart-aleck, “Whip It” is not afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve as an in­vis­i­ble ac­ces­sory to the pads, hel­met and em­bar­rass­ing Bar­bie skates that pro­pel its un­der­age small-town heroine from the Texas beauty pageant cir­cuit to a new iden­tity as “Babe Ruth­less” in the bruise-and­brews cul­ture of women’s roller derby.

“You’re my new he­roes,” says Page’s char­ac­ter when she first en­coun­ters her fu­ture team­mates, the hell-on-wheels Holy Rollers. “Put some skates on and be your own hero,” re­sponds cap­tain “Mag­gie May­hem” (Kris­ten Wiig), and it’s a mea­sure of Bar­ry­more’s taste­ful han­dling of a fine script by Shauna Cross (work­ing from her own young-adult novel) that the line is thrilling in­stead of corny.

Page plays 17-year-old Bliss Caven­dar (a great char­ac­ter name), who du­ti­fully ful­fills the dreams of her for­mer beauty-queen mother (Mar­cia Gay Har­den) by par­tic­i­pat­ing in pageants when not earn­ing money with her nonglam­orous best friend, Pash (Alia Shawkat), as a wait­ress at the lo­cal bar­be­cue pit, the Oink Joint .

Dur­ing a shop­ping trip in Austin, Bliss learns about the roller derby re­vival. Ea­ger for ado­les­cent lib­er­a­tion, she and Pash sneak off for try­outs, where Bliss pre­tends to be 22; small and fast, she wins a spot in the league, join­ing such other play­ers as “Bloody Holly,” “Eva De­struc­tion,” “Jabba the Slut,” “Smash­ley Simp­son” (Bar­ry­more) and the Holy Rollers’ arch-en­emy, “Iron Maven” (Juli­ette Lewis).

Skat­ing as “Babe Ruth­less,” how­ever, re­quires Bliss to sneak out at night and to lie to her team­mates as well as her par­ents (Daniel Stern is won­der­ful as her sym­pa­thetic fa­ther). Her new iden­tity also leads to her first real love af­fair, with a skinny in­die rocker (Lan­don Pigg) with a large vinyl record col­lec­tion and an Army sur­plus jacket. The en­ergy drains from the film when­ever the ro­mance rises, but this sub­plot ul­ti­mately is jus­ti­fied by a plot twist that af­firms the girl-power mes­sage.

“Whip It” ar­rives at a time when the roller derby re­vival has yet to lose its cool­ness. To that end, Mem­phis Roller Derby rep­re­sen­ta­tives will be at screen­ings tonight at the Par­adiso and Satur­day at the Cor­dova Cin­ema, hop­ing to re­cruit the real-life Babe Ruth­lesses of the fu­ture.

Dar­ren Michaels

Drew Bar­ry­more (left), Ellen Page and Kris­ten Wiig por­tray mem­bers of the hell-on-wheels Holy Rollers in “Whip It.”

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