Before you go to see this feel-good romp about a girl who discovers roller derby and first love in the same week, there are a few things you should know about Whip It! (Exclamation theirs. I would have gone with an ellipsis.)
1. It is not a period piece. Vintage clothes and old-fashioned values abound, but the movie is set in present day. It's hard to tell from the commercials, and just as hard to tell from the movie, which features only one real pop culture reference, and two late-in-the-game uses of computers.
2. It is not a comedy. Believe it or not. Kristen Wiig plays it straight, an uber-violent Drew Barrymore is kinda scary, Jimmy Fallon does a parody of himself and Ellen Page... doesn't really talk very much. It's really more of an inspirational sports movie and touching coming-of-age story than a laugh-out-loud knee-slapper. You will laugh at Juliette Lewis, but that will not be based on anything she says, but rather, how she says it and what she's wearing when she does.
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3. It is based on a book. You may be surprised, because there are big chunks of the movie with no real dialogue, and yet there are several lengthy voiceover explanations of the rules of roller derby. Also, what dialogue there is sounds like it was made up on the fly, with little to no embellishment, which is strange, since the script was written by the author of the book. Not having read it, I am assuming it contains no dialogue.
4. This movie contains a romp in a field, an underwater make-out scene AND a food fight. I just thought the guys should be prepared, in case they weren't expecting that much cutesiness in what is otherwise a tale of female empowerment. Did I mention Drew Barrymore directed this?
5. There's a lot of skin in this movie. Not nudity, of course, but some of the derby costumes are pretty skimpy (especially on Zoe Bell, whose costume may have been made for a much shorter actress), and Ellen Page spends an inordinate amount of time in her underwear. And guys out there who have a fetish for women showing off their bruises to each other... well, let's just say you hit the jackpot and leave it at that.
6. Marcia Gay Harden plays two characters. One is a hard-working mother who sneaks a cigarette now and then, used to love Christian rock and is willing to take her daughter shopping at funky shops for clunky boots; the other is a stereotypically prim and proper Southern matron who longs to relive her days as a cotillion queen and thinks a bong is a pretty vase. Unfortunately, the two characters are one and the same, and while the disapproving mom being a flawed former wild child is a nice dichotomy, Harden only plays one at a time, depending on the needs of the scene, so her character comes off as having multiple personality disorder. But, for what it's worth, she plays them both brilliantly, and really elevates the movie.
7. Roller derby does not have the same rules as rollerball. Luckily, I learned this before I joined a league myself.
8. You can get to be a roller derby star without ever throwing a punch. Page's character, Babe Ruthless, gets knocked around a bit, but her job as jammer is to get past the other players, and she rises to fame and notoriety by using her size and speed. (And getting "whipped" through the throng, hence the title.) She throws one hip check at the end of the film, but they don't really make a big deal out of it, except that Juliette Lewis is really surprised.
9. Did you know there's a third Wilson brother, Andrew? He's actually the funniest thing in the movie. Hell, at this point, he may be the funniest thing in the Wilson family.
10. The movie's actually not that bad. I don't know if it's the soundtrack, the crazy uniforms, the timeless aesthetic or the who's-who cast, but the movie is enjoyable, despite the occasional schoolgirl-fantasy interludes, the bare-bones script and the lackluster performances. It's raw and unpolished, but then again, so is roller derby.
Did you see Whip It!? What did you think?
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