Friday, October 16, 2009
Why I Kind of Want to Live in Whip It!
Let's start with what I didn't love about Whip It!: It's definitely a beginner's effort, directorially. It's not that it's bad, it just isn't very impressive as a visual document, the actual derby scenes could have had more impact, the whole thing could've felt a bit more rousing. But honestly, those are very small complaints, and the reason I'm still taking the time to write about this movie two weeks now since seeing it is that Whip It! does so much right.
My immediate reaction after the movie was that I wished Whip It! was a TV show, because after being immersed with those characters for almost two hours and following them through the completion of one derby season, I needed to see what happened to them after that. What of next season and the one after that? How does Bliss fare in Austin, or Maeby in New York? Do the Hurl Scouts manage to climb up from No. 2? Does Eva Destruction manage to successfully bag Rosa Sparks? It's a tribute to Barrymore, Shauna Cross, and an excellent cast that this whole universe burned so brightly. Who wouldn't want to discover a brave new world like Austin with Ellen Page and Alia Shawkat? Or meet a surrogate mom like Kristen Wiig. Or throw elbows with Drew Barrymore. Or test your mettle against Juliette Lewis. Or be in the presence of my secret stealth weapon Ari Graynor.
Inselible characters are one thing, but the story where Whip It! elevates itself above an enjoyable time at the movies and becomes something impressive and substantial. It's kind of quietly revolutionary to have this movie about girls playing a sport and not be about Girls Playing a Sport. It's not an issue -- they don't even make an issue out of the fact that it's not an issue. That stuff is left to people like me. The story gets to be about finding what you love and excelling at it, not making your case to be equal to the guys.
Even the conflict between Bliss and her parents doesn't boil down to Girls Shouldn't Play. Nobody's talked about this much that I've heard, but Marcia Gay Harden's character gets about six more dimensions than a character like that ever gets, even in very good movies. She's disapproving, but she has her reasons, and good or bad, they make sense. She's not a monster, she has her own motivations and regrets and stolen moments, and she loves her daughter not in a way that appears and disappears with the dictates of the story. It's as full a portrait of a woman who can't ever be the cool mom, wants to be a good mom, and doesn't always succeed. It's there on the page, and Marcia Gay Harden lives up to it.
That's kind of how I'd compliment Drew Barrymore's work on the film, too, despite the nagging shortcomings. It's already there on the page, but Drew manages to live up to it.