Guys: I really liked Whip It.
I know, I know. After months of talking about it, how could I not love it? That's unfair, of course: with a bar like the one I'd set, it was either fall in love or be let down. Fortunately, it was the former, and though it's not perfect, I still think it's beautiful.
Okay, there are a few problems. The amount of music (non-score) gets distracting, and while a lot of it is really cool...it's distracting. The romantic subplot between Bliss and a bassist (played by actual musician Landon Pigg) is not set up particularly well. Come to think of it, he's kind of awkward to watch, too. Sometimes the editing was jarring, losing some big moments, awkwardly cutting for close-ups, etc. Drew Barrymore is certainly no Sarah Polley.
But as a director of actors, she must kick some ass, because the performances are surprisingly good. When I say surprising, I mean I know that these are actors and characters that could be broadly comic. Instead, the comedy is more amusing than funny, with the dramatic sequences actually hitting that emotional core within all of us. My roommate was tearing up, my DP's girlfriend was tearing up, and the tears were just outright flowing for me. So, yeah, as far as that kind of thing goes, Barrymore's great. She just needs more practice behind the camera.
She's certainly working with a solid script. Shauna Cross adapts her own novel Derby Girl, and having read that, I gotta give mad props. Yeah, they're the same story with the same characters, but Cross approaches them differently, changing her story to suit the medium. It works better here than it does on the page (and it works great on the page).
Also of help: the solid cast. Once again, Ellen Page is a high-schooler marching to the beat of her own drum, but don't you dare mistake this for another Juno. Bliss Cavendar is more reserved, more self-conscious, less dependent on quips. Surely Maxim is wrong: how can Megan Fox be "the new sexy" when Ellen Page exists? Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern play her parents. Harden's pageant-obsessed mother is never a stock character, and she really breaks your heart in a number of scenes. Stern -- Daniel Stern, mind you, from Home Alone and Bushwacked -- also manages to avoid caricature, though there are so many missteps he could have made. And yet, he has probably the most touching scene in the film. Good on Stern, or good on Barrymore?
Barrymore herself plays a stoner derby girl, one of a colorful ensemble of sexy skaters that include Zoe Bell, Eve, Ari Graynor, Juliette Lewis (!) and Kristen Wiig. Wiig gets to play the other mother of the story -- she does well. Lewis is a villainous bitch, absolutely terrifying and yet impossibly awesome. I'm not a HUGE fan, but I admit, I was kind of pleased to see her back. Andrew Wilson is pretty funny as their coach, so far putting him at #2 on the Wilson Brothers Rankings (Owen is still #1).
It's a fun movie, one that definitely should be seen by women. Earlier, I recommended my mother see it with my sisters, because as far as mother-daughter relationships go, this film has one of the more realistically-portrayed ones. Not just the chemistry of the actors, though that is certainly the driving force of the film. The level of approval and disapproval as regards a situation is finally illustrated truthfully instead of idealistically.
I'd see it again, definitely. And again, Marcia Gay Harden. She's great in this. Definitely see it this week -- it needs our help.