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.
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1 comment:

Zindaginha said...

Orsome! Whip It definitely whipped it good for me, but a lot of my positive response is in part simple relief that, while cute, the movie wasn't cutesy. We were in dangerous waters here, with Ellen Page and the tribute to the riot grrrl roller derby movement even before they brought in the giant plaster pig and the teenage beauty pageant-obsessed mom. The characters all flirt with recent Indy-film stereotypes, but whoever it was, Barrymore or her screen writer, Whip It thankfully doesn't go there. I was also especially thankful that the mom, in spite of her somewhat improbable faith in small town beauty pageants as the Sure Path to success, manages to keep this aspect of her character relatively tone-downed while also reasonably justifying her position. She also doesn't experience the miraculous conversion at the end that one would expect. Neither does Bliss's dad exist merely as foil for his wife's unpleasantness.

Actually, to be honest, maybe Whip It is a lot more formulaic than I'm able to detect and maybe its characters and plot lines are not as soft in their loyalty to that formula as I believe, but I'm effectively blinded to these possible defects because the movie is, above all, So Austin. From the less than subtle Daniel Johnston homage to the plaster pig to Roller Derby and teenage beauty pageants themselves, the whole thing looked, smelled and tasted like Austin. (Ok, so I was unaware of Roller Derby's Austin resurrection until this film, but it is now just one more reason for me to love this part of the world. And, roller derby is awesome). The movie also captures the way Austin felt to me when I was Bliss' age and it was, frankly, the coolest place any of my relatives lived and therefore the coolest place I'd ever been. I more or less missed the tight-pants, hipster scene embodied by Bliss's misguided, first-time beau, but after seeing this movie, that's now a grafted part of my early Austin memories as well. Damn, now I'm hungry for homemade mac and cheese and BBQ sausage and I have no way to quell my cravings!