Whip It

Posted: 01/23/2010 in Film Review [Archive], Review

It’s pretty rare that you get a movie whose ultimate charms lurk far below the surface and are realized several hours after viewing at the soonest, or at least that’s what it’s been feeling like. Most big movies from this year really wore not just their log lines, but their entire heart and soul on their sleeves, and that goes just as much for Up In The Air as it does Inglorious Basterds or District 9. Against all odds, Whip It is the film that carries it off.

At first it rolls up to you as the John Hughes formula dolled up in the Fuck Off charm of the Suicide Girl roller derby fantasy, an uncomfortable but compelling shotgun wedding of classic teen movie tropes and the edgy underworld of forbidden female aggression represented by the roller derby circuit. We’ve seen the idea before; teenage girl eager to rebel against mother signs up for something that she is not old enough to do, finds out that she is awesome at it and gets all the respect she ever dreamed of until she gets found out by her mom which causes act three falling out and a heartwarming resolution at the climax. I’m not going to lie, all of that happens in Whip It, and you will probably be able to guess when it is coming.

But the first thing that really separates Whip It from the rest of it’s genre is the strength that the roller derby angle gives the entire narrative. Bliss isn’t out there moonlighting as a fashion designer or being a model or a figure skater or something, she’s getting the crap beat out of her learning to assert herself as a woman in a sport that is somewhere half way between fight club and ice hockey. It’s promoting a very different kind of self image that expands beyond the flat track and even learning to party like a rock star, it’s about engendering a physical and social independence that extends to all facets of life. You get the obvious moment where Bliss hipchecks the school bully off a railing, but there’s far more rewarding scenes to be had such as her proud father proudly displaying a sign with her team name and number on their front lawn to show up his neighbour’s similar posting of his sons’ football accomplishments, but Whip It shines best in it’s understated romantic subplot.

It’s almost compulsory that a film in this genre have a romantic subplot, but the script deftly avoids what would have otherwise sold out the film’s entire dialectic. Bliss’ pursuit of an indie rocker isn’t the objective, inspiration, or purpose of her joining the Hurl Scouts as it would have been in the John Hughes formula, it’s a well deserved fringe benefit that frequently veers towards cliche land at several points but veers out just in time at every turn. Whip It’s romantic subplot demands mention because of how refreshing it is in a scene dominated by insincere patriarchal nonsense peddled by the likes of Twilight.

I’m not much of a fan of sports movies, but then most sports are not roller derby. Unsurprisingly I first ran across it in it’s current feminist reclamation fueled incarnation at a tattoo convention and declared it to be brilliant. It seems to carry with it that same unique cachet that the UFC has, that it’s unpolished presentation, unpredictability, and sanctioned violence lend it a unique character that speaks to the generations furthest down the alphabet more convincingly than any of it’s mainstream counterparts, which Whip It preserves commendably with a complete lack of irony. Verily, the sporting elements of Whip It most resemble Slapshot complete with a pair of ultra violent side characters known as the Manson Sisters.

Far from being all stars, Bliss’ team the Hurl Scouts compete convincingly for disfunctionality with the Chiefs with an eclectic cast of Generation Xers from Barrymore herself as the obnoxious stoner Smashley Simpson to Deathproof’s Zoe Bell and rapper turned actress Eve with the legendary Juliette Lewis appearing as Bliss’ chief rival from the nigh unbeatable Holy Rollers.

All in all Whip It is for the teen movie what Star Trek XI was for science fiction this year, the klarion call to wake up, modernize, and be awesome. It doesn’t appeal to girls by exclusion and it doesn’t appeal to guys by pandering. It appeals to all because it’s fun, fresh, and unapologetic.

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