There comes a time in every girl’s life when she’ll have to decide whether to keep on trudging through the small-town Texas beauty pageant circuit to please her mom, or run off to the rowdy Austin roller derby.
For 17-year-old social outcast Bliss (Ellen Page), in Whip It, the choice is easy. She lies to her apple pie and football loving parents, ditches her best friend and skirts school and her waitress job to become Babe Ruthless, a forearm-shiver-sending, fishnet-wearing queen of the banked oval track.
In Austin, Babe gets down and dirty with a crowd Barney Stinson would refer to as Whoo Girls, including Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore), Rosa Spark (Eve) and Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig). There’s a Mighty Ducks-style coach, Razor (Andrew Wilson) and a gregarious announcer (Jimmy Fallon) who narrates the matches, which is about as intelligible to newcomers as cricket.
Babe also picks up a nasty rival (Juliette Lewis) who’s more than twice her age, and an indie rock star boyfriend, Oliver (Landon Pigg) who may or may not cheat on her when he goes off on tour.
The movie copies its plot beats from Flashdance and Showgirls, and mistakes manic energy for entertainment. As fine an actress as she is, Page can’t match the quirky intensity of her teammates. Barrymore, directing herself as a drunken utterer of non sequitur zingers, is the life of the party. You can’t say the same about her directing, though. The more-shrill-than-inspiring story drags quite a bit, and I was about done with this thing halfway through.
The lasting image I come away with is an extended sequence of underwater kissing that makes it seem that both Page and Pigg are mer-people. Seriously, they never come up for air as they make out in about 15 different positions. It’s only the audience that’s drowning.
Starring Ellen Page and Marcia Gay Harden. Written by Shauna Cross, adapted from her novel. Directed by Drew Barrymore. Rated PG-13 for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material. 111 minutes.
- Also opening this week:
•Capitalism: A Love Story — Raconteur documentarian Michael Moore traces the origins of the economic meltdown in his usual entertaining, self-serving, unrelentingly biased way.
•The Invention of Lying — One of these years the comedic stylings of Ricky Gervais (the original British The Office, HBO’s Extras) will translate to the silver screen. Maybe that will be the case in this offering, set in an alternate universe in which people only tell the truth, with Gervais playing a schlub who invents the concept of lying.
•A Serious Man — The Coen brothers’ latest, set in 1967, is about a college professor (Tony winner Michael Stuhlbarg) who battles professional, romantic and family strife.
•Toy Story and Toy Story 2 3-D – Precursors to Pixar’s 3-D Toy Story 3, the computer-animated classics get a facelift.
•Zombieland — Jesse Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson play humanity’s last hope in this over-the-top zombie-smashing comedy. Think Shaun of the Dead.
Phil Villarreal’s humorous money-saving book, Secrets of a Stingy Scoundrel, is available at bookstores and on Amazon.