Director: Drew Barrymore
Writer: Shauna Cross
Based on: her own novel Derby Girl
Cast: Ellen Page, Kristen Wiig, Zoë Bell, Eve, Drew Barrymore, Andrew Wilson, Juliette Lewis, Marcia Gay Harden, Alia Shawkat, Carlo Alban, Landon Pigg, Jimmy Fallon
Seen on: 17.9.2016
Bliss’ (Ellen Page) mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) has been raising Bliss to participate in beauty pageants. But Bliss has no interest whatsoever in being pretty or in pageantry. That becomes even clearer to her when she discovers roller derby. On a whim she goes to a match, and falls in love immediately. After talking to team captain Maggie Mayhem (Kirsten Wiig), she decides to try out for the team herself. Despite the fact that her parents can’t know about it or that she isn’t the required 21 years old yet. So she dons skates and starts practicing, findig her place in the team and the world.
Whip It is a sweet film, with a lot of fun moments and it wouldn’t surprise me if it made at least half of its audience fall in love with roller derby. There’s one big draw back though – and that’s the fact that they didn’t dare to make this a queer story. But other than that I enjoyed it a lot.
I don’t think that every woman who does or enjoys roller derby has to be lesbian (or bi/pan), but it is a queer-coded sport in many ways and, as far as I know, it’s rather popular amongst lesbians. That fact alone wouldn’t have made it necessary either that Bliss should be a lesbian herself, but it became a sore point because a) there are no (open?) lesbians in the film at all and b) the romantic subplot involving a (male) musician who Bliss falls in love with feels completely out of place, shoehorned in just to make sure that nobody could possibly mistake Bliss for a lesbian.
Ultimately it hurt the film, not only because it squandered a chance to show some decent lesbian representation, but also because it was absolutely irritating whenever the movie spent any time on the dude (fortunately it wasn’t a lot of time, so that’s something). Equally annoying was the fact that the woman’s team needed a male coach or the sexist role Jimmy Fallon played. If there hadn’t been any dudes in the film and had Bliss been allowed to fall in love with one of her team mates or maybe the rival Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis), it could have been damn near perfect.
As is, it was still nice and enjoyable, especially when it focussed on the team and their friendships, including the complicated relationship with the rival team led by Iron Maven. That was the heart of the film and fortunately, Barrymore and Cross knew enough to focus most of the film’s attention on that.
That means we get a film filled with colorful (albeit mostly white) and unusual women played by a great cast who get to relate to each other in many different ways, which is an excellent thing to get, especially when mixed with the cool roller derby and the even cooler roller derby names.