Saturday, February 13, 2010

Movie Log: Whip It

For viewers of a certain age, seeing Daniel Stern in a coming-of-age story set in a small dead-end town and involving a teenager discovering a great ability in an unlikely sport will be a deeply bittersweet affair. Stern is paunchy and middle-aged as the gruff-but-lovable father in Whip It, playing a modern version of the Paul Dooley role in Breaking Away -- it's as if Stern has turned into his own best friend's father during these past thirty years.

But Whip It isn't a movie for worrying about getting old; it's for the joy of youth and the thrill of finding something you really love. Ellen Page, this half-decade's It Girl (and for good reason, actually) is Bliss Cavendar, a high-achieving misfit from a minor Texas town whose major leisure activity as the movie opens is gamely finishing in the middle of the pack at the beauty pageants her mother (Marcia Gay Harden, thankfully given more to do her than just be the demanding mother) drags her to. On a trip to nearby Austin, Bliss discovers roller derby, and, before long, she's laced up her skates and joined the Hurl Scouts as their new star.

Now, I'm no expert on modern roller derby -- I've seen a few bouts, and loved them, so I know the rules more-or-less, even if I thought the current game was played on a flat rather than a banked track [1] -- but that doesn't matter, since Whip It is just one part sports movie and one part battling-parental-disapproval movie. It does have some generic elements in it, so viewers who don't want to see another training montage as long as they live -- or a "as long as you're under my roof, you follow my rules!" argument, either -- may want to avoid this movie.

But, on the other hand, it's a movie that's mostly about women, populated by women, and features women talking and interacting with each other for long stretches that have very little to do with men -- so those looking for a movie that can pass the Bechdel Test will be happy. (There is a love interest for Bliss -- how could there not be, in a movie with those templates? -- but that's very much a secondary story.)

Whip It isn't a great movie, and it was never going to be. But it's fun and exciting, with good dialogue, a fine cast, and plenty of women who aren't there to be pretty and decorative (including Bliss's mother, in her own way -- these are all tough Texas dames, in the best sense). It's made me want to go see some roller derby again, and that's good, too.

[1] One short excursion via Google later, I'm wondering if this is actually the current feud -- the flat-track girls vs. a semi-co-ed league that allows banked tracks. I suspect it may be a religious issue, and so I'll try to avoid it in future.
Listening to: Haley Bonar - Daisy Girls
via FoxyTunes


Emilia Joyce Plater said...

LOVED this movie. It made me want to get up and do something - and it made me really thankful to have something I'm passionate about (writing). It wasn't the most unpredictable movie ever, but hey, real life can be pretty predictable sometimes, and I really related to Bliss. It's a great movie in teenage girl book. (:

Bookseller Bill said...

A cable network (I think A&E) aired a roller derby reality show four or five years ago, featuring the banked track league in Austin. The teams up here in Boston are all flat track.

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