GIRL POWER ON SKATES
> BARRYMORE’S DIRECTORIAL DEBUT ‘WHIP IT’ IS SMART AS A WHIP
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.
Drew Barrymore (left), Ellen Page and Kristen Wiig portray members of the hell-on-wheels Holy Rollers in “Whip It.”