starring Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Alia Shawkat, Andrew Wilson, Landon Pigg and Daniel Stern
screenplay by Shauna Cross
directed by Drew Barrymore
Based on the novel Whip It by Shauna Cross, who also wrote the screenplay, the Japanese title “Rollergirl Diary” is a little more explicative. “The Whip” is a roller derby play. I used to watch roller derby - men’s and women’s - on TV in the 1970s.
Whip It is Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, and it’s good. It’s a girl’s movie. It gives us romance and sex, humor, friendship, despair, alienation and angst, search for oneself and for escape from one’s family from a teenage girl’s perspective. It is a coming of age film like American Graffiti (1973) in that it features a teenager bursting to escape her small town. In the case of American Graffiti it was Richard Dreyfus in rural California, but in this case it’s Ellen Page in rural Texas. I thought of Janis Joplin, whose spirit was too big for Port Arthur, or Buddy Holly whom Lubbockcould not contain. Bliss (Ellen Page) feels like a square peg in a round hold in tiny Doreen. So she gravitates to Austin, the big city, where she discovers her element in women’s roller derby.
Roller Derby players bring to mind a vast field of socially misunderstood professions that many of us are at best only vaguely aware of. There is a whole subculture consisting of jobs like strippers, professional wrestlers, motor cross racers, circus performers, tattoo artists, night club bouncers, rodeo clowns, street musicians, etc. Working jobs like these doesn’t mean that the people are less virtuous, caring, intelligent, loving, ambitious, etc. than anyone else. When I see a movie like Whip It, or The Wrestler (2008, Mikey Rourke) I appreciate the feeling I get of the common humanity that unites us.
This is the second feature movie I have seen with Ellen Page (Juno, 2007, directed by Jason Reitman). She has that gothic girl next door look that regularly reminds me of Thora Birch, the adolescent feminine libido that reminds me of my first girlfriend, and that short black haired Japanese boy look with Bohemian manners that remind me of my old friend, Laura B. This is also the first film I have seen Daniel Stern in since Home Alone 2 (1992). Really. I was happy to see him after first being shocked by his aged appearance. Well, it’s only natural. Home Alone was a long time ago. It’s also the first time I have seen Juliette Lewis in a dog’s age. She has been busy in recent years pursuing a thrash rock career away from movies. But maybe now she is gravitating back to film. As soon as I saw Andrew Wilson, even with a heavy beard and sunglasses I knew it was a Wilson brother. How many Wilson brothers are there in the movies? Owen, Luke, Andrew. Any more?
Finally, Whip It is a story set in Texas, but where are the Texas accents? Not from Andrew Wilson. He sounds like my idea of a Californian. Not from Ellen Page. She is a Canadian from Halifax, NS. I could be way off the mark about accents, but I think it’s a minor flaw.