Rating: * * * *
Verdict: You know where it's going, and you've seen these characters before, but it's a moving little flick full of feisty fun.
Drew Barrymore sensibly doesn't get too ambitious with her directorial debut, and it has worked for her. Keeping it simple and infusing Barrymore's perky, off-beat style and sense of humour has resulted in a coming of age story that's both charming and a little rock 'n' roll.
Based on the novel Derby Girl by Shauna Cross (who also penned the screenplay), Whip It is a mainstream film with indie influences. The story is all familiar territory, based around the themes of following your dreams, daughters rebelling against their overbearing mothers, and the excitement and ultimate disappointment of first love.
However, add an eclectic soundtrack, a mix of well-known and lesser-known faces, and a witty, dry script and place it all into the cool underground world of the action-packed roller derby in Austin, Texas, and you've got an indie edge.
Kicking off in the lethargic town of Bodenn, Texas, tomboy Bliss Cavendar (Juno's Ellen Page) dreams of escaping her smalltown life, and the beauty pageants her mother Brook (Marcia Gay Harden) encourages her to enter.
Working at the local diner with her best friend Pash, (Alia Shawkat), the two girls pass the time conjuring up ways to flee town. Pash's hopes rest on being accepted into an Ivy League school, but it's not until Bliss discovers a flyer for the Roller Derby in nearby Austin that she can see a way to break free from Bodenn.
With Pash as her co-conspirator, Bliss secretly attends the roller derby trials, lies about her age and is slightly stunned to find herself a member of The Hurl Scouts, (Barrymore and Kiwi stuntwoman and actress Zoe Bell are members), the worst team in this rough and tumble all-female roller skating competition.
It's an interesting cast and mix of talent, with Harden, Page and Shawkat holding the show together, grounding the film emotionally with honest, moving performances.
Saturday Night Live's Kristen Wiig also puts in a solid performance as Bliss's roller derby mentor Maggie Mayhem, but there are less than impressive performances. Jimmy Fallon fails to fire as the derby MC 'Hot Tub' Johnny Rocket, and newcomer Landon Pigg's nerves show as Bliss's love interest, indie rocker Oliver.
This aside, Whip It is a confident debut from Barrymore, one that embodies her own "girls can do anything" attitude. It's not often you get a female-skewed sports film that's also part comedy, part drama. Barrymore has managed to combine these elements and create a sweet and entertaining film.
Cast: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden
Director: Drew Barrymore
Running time: 111 mins
Rating: M (Offensive Language & Sexual References)