Monday, October 25, 2010

Review: Whip It! (2009)

Director: Drew Barrymore
Starring: Ellen Page, Alia Shawkat, Carlo Alban, Kristin Wiig, Marcia Grey Harden

Brooke Cavendar: I'm supposed to buy you shoes from a... a head shop? Does that really strike you as responsible parenting?
Bliss Cavendar: Fine, the shoes are a gateway drug.

Say, are you tired of horror movies yet? I’ve reviewed quite a few of them already. I think it’s time for something else.

Whip It!, directed by Drew Barrymore, is a teen dramedy about a girl named Bliss – odd choice. It’s kind of like a New Age name if it were…a parody of a New Age name. Oh, wait. That’s exactly what it is! So she’s played by Ellen Page, a quirky, unique girl who works at a diner themed around pigs, is forced to go to beauty pageants by her mother and absolutely hates her small-town, mundane life. Isn’t that just precious? And of course she’s a natural at roller derby, the random hobby this movie has chosen to bestow upon us. She’s…never skated any more past her Barbie-skate stage, never even heard of roller derby before some chicks posted flyers all over a store she happened to be in, but she’s a natural. And pretty soon she’s skating with Austin, Texas’ primary roller derby vixens even though she’s only 17. All while balancing a secret boyfriend from her parents as well, who she doesn’t even know and yet wants anyway – because he’s hot.
Well, that part I can believe. But the rest of it is just ridiculous!

Even more ridiculous is that it’s actually a really great movie. I mean…it really is. It’s incredibly well done on every front, and I haven’t had more fun watching a movie in a while now. This is one of those cases where a movie ticks off all the boxes in its chosen genre – this one being ‘idealistic feel good teen drama/comedy’ – and yet rolls with them to create something absolutely wonderful. We’ve got quirky characters, we’ve got a completely unbelievable plot, we’ve got an inspiring non-suburban thing to get our pretty, practically perfect-looking main chick excited about her teenage life and we’ve got lots of stylish and weird comedy to make it more light hearted. And it’s all done absolutely perfectly.

I think one of the main reasons this works is that it just feels honest. It’s not like Juno where they tripped over themselves a million times trying to be funny. And it’s not like I Love You Man or any number of Judd Apatow movies where the comedy just feels forced or shoved in by a bunch of thirty year old ex-fratboys trying to be hip with the kids. Whip It! just works because the story came naturally, with the funny parts and the dramatic parts falling into place because they have to be there, and more so, because they make sense. They just flow naturally into the ebb of this movie’s waves, fitting in like a jigsaw puzzle.

Well let’s see. Kind of hard to review one of those movies that is just pure enjoyment, but let’s try. The characters are great. Ellen Page really is a wonderful actress, overcoming Juno with every leap and every bound she makes in movies these days. She’s funny and makes the quirkiness actually entertaining rather than obnoxious. I also really liked Alia Shawkat as Pash…what is this movie’s fascination with these weird-ass names? But she’s cute and funny and steals almost every scene she’s in with her huge personality. Carlo Alban as “Birdman” is great, as is the dad, and pretty much all of the roller derby racers…hell, I won’t even spoil any more of it for you. There’s just too many surprises and fun parts to miss out on.

The dialogue is good, never too silly but still goofy and cinematic enough to make the movie entertaining. I won’t ever try to claim this is how people really talk. But it’s a movie, and it doesn’t have any kind of pretension – it’s just silly fun. Check out the quote at the top of the page for one example, or perhaps:

 Pash: But you don't have the balls.
Bliss Cavendar: I can grow the balls...

It’s just stuff like that; the snappy retorts and silly, witty comments that spice it up and make the movie more enjoyable. Is it indie-ified as all get out? Yes. But I don’t believe that to be an automatic disqualifier of quality. It’s fun.

The story progresses along pretty normally, with your usual build up and coming down and funny parts and serious parts. The roller derby scenes are excellent and always really tense and exciting. The scenes where she runs away from home are really good, in particular the one in the car with Kristin Wiig…or Maggie Mayhem as she’s known in the movie. The scene in the pool with her and her boyfriend is great – although I REALLY think the movie is stretching its plausibility when, in the middle of her front yard in broad daylight, she takes off her shirt and trades it with her boyfriend’s jacket. I mean come on! It’s right there in front of her own house! Anyone could have seen her. But I guess that’s just part of what makes this movie what it is – it’s just doing its own thing with no regard for sanity or normalcy.

And then it doesn’t really turn out like you thought it would in the end. I mean, sure, it’s still really idealistic and really indie-ified, but there are some pretty decent aversions from the usual clichés. And at 2 hours, I felt I had spent my time well.

This is just one of those movies, people. It’s just really well written and really enjoyable. It just works like a new car, or a day at the beach till sunset. The characters are great, the plot is fun and it just rocks. Sure as hell made me want to roller derby.

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