Whip It! opens Friday throughout the Triangle
Role models for girls are hard to find in mainstream movies. Easy to find: brainless hotties, victims and uptight control freaks looking for love. Then there's Juno, but Ellen Page's breakout film was a conundrum: Diablo Cody's writing was sharp and funny, but unprotected sex and then pregnancy? My outraged teen daughter rightly asked, "Where is the girl's version of Ferris Bueller's Day Off?"
Whip It steps into that void.
Bliss (Page) is suffocating in teensy Bodeen, Texas, waiting out senior year and waitressing at the Big Oink. She's a half-pint with pent-up anger against her mom (Marcia Gay Harden), a former beauty queen who pushes her to compete in the Miss Bluebonnet Pageant. Instead, Bliss revels in a more transgressive femininity after an encounter with a roller derby team inspires her to get out her Barbie skates and start kicking ass at the rink as Babe Ruthless.
The bruising Hurl Scouts are tattooed and rowdy, but they sure are fun. They are passionate about the physical rush of skating and their ambiguously gay sisterhood. Drew Barrymore, Kristen Wiig and Juliette Lewis are among the tough skater chicks—and who wouldn't want to be like them? Navigating this new social and emotional territory, along with her best friend Pash (the terrific Alia Shawkat), would be a challenge even if Bliss weren't still living at home, and passing as a good girl.
That said, only about two-thirds of Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, with a script by Shauna Cross from her semiautobiographical young adult novel, is invigorating. Eventually, the story veers off track into a romance with a skinny rocker (evidently Page's character uses condoms this time) and enters generic coming-of-age territory, complete with a choice between Miss Bluebonnet and the Big Match. I loved Bend It Like Beckham, but I don't need to see it on skates. If only Hollywood had truly allowed the Hurl Scouts to rule the screen.