Whip It (Blu-ray)
There’s a scene early on in WHIP IT when Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) is on a shopping trip to the big city with her mother and a group of girls come skating into the store they’re at. Director Drew Barrymore filmed that scene with a mastering that many seasoned directors couldn’t pull off. In that simple sequence, we understood everything we needed to know about Bliss; she was living a life she didn’t want and in that moment, she found a calling that could lead to life she did want. I don’t want to be overly sentimental in regards to a film about roller derby, but this was one heck of a movie and was an absolute joy to watch. Great characters, great scrip, great performances and an outstanding effort from first time director Barrymore.
Bliss is trapped in a small, Texas town, completely held by her 1950’s-esque mother and forced to participate in beauty pageants, which we can tell she hates. When she discovers the roller derby league in a nearby city, she concocts a lie that will allow her to participate. During this time, Bliss meets people she’s never encountered, joins the team and even meets a boy. Elements of this story are familiar in many sports movies and coming-of-age films about high school students, but WHIP IT manages to combine some elements in a fresh setting that makes you feel like you’re seeing it for the first time.
The greatest element to this film is Barrymore’s ability to capture the essence of a young adult that’s desperate to escape her current life. Many of us have been her exact situation in which we feel trapped and helpless by our environment, friends, family, job, etc., and some of us were lucky enough to find something that allowed us to break free of those trappings. That’s why Bliss is such a likeable character; everyone (men and women) can relate to her.
The trick to breaking free is to get away without completely alienating your family and that’s what Bliss learns towards the end. It’s spelled out to her by Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) perfectly in a speech that could have been horrible but ended up fitting in perfectly. That credit goes to Shauna Cross, who wrote the screenplay and the novel the film is based on. I’m of the belief that original authors should always write the screenplays, most notably because they truly understand the characters they’ve created. Ms. Cross lends a lot of credit to my theory and her screenplay could have been embarrassingly cheesy in the hands of a lesser author. As it is, I’m truly disappointed she hasn’t received more credit for her work.
I was truly impressed by this film and I feel safe in saying that it’s one of the better sports movies we’ve seen in many years. It sounds crazy, but this little film about women’s roller derby touched on more thematic elements than 95% of the films out there about football, baseball or basketball. WHIP IT is a treat and has even inspired me to break out my old skates. And no, they don’t have Barbies on them.
I have to vent for a second and say how disappointed I am that we didn’t get a commentary from any of the actresses or even Drew Barrymore. This is one of those times where I know Barrymore would have had a lot to say about her first directorial effort. But even a commentary from Shauna Cross would have been nice.
Video: Widescreen 2.40:1. Fox continues to impress me with the quality of their new releases. WHIP IT has a dark, sometimes smokey setting and I was concerned the black levels would lose definition. Thankfully, the video presentation was top notch and the film looked wonderful.
Audio: The DTS-HD audio track was also nice and those with a nice surround setup will enjoy the crowd noises during the derby scenes.
Deleted Scenes (16:14): You have to feel for Alia Shawkat after watching these scenes since most of them served to develop her character. It turned out to be a good thing because a lot of these would’ve just slowed down the film. However, unless your a big fan of Shawkat (I loved her on ‘Arrested Development’), I don’t think you’ll get anything out of these.
Fox Movie Channel Presents Writer’s Draft: Shauna Cross of Whip It (3:04): Note to Blu-ray producers; you can’t have a three minute featurette and have nothing but movie clips in it. I saw this on the back cover and was pretty excited to hear something from Shauna Cross. What little I heard was really great, but I wanted more. Cross was very passionate about her film and she had a lot of enthusiasm with in only 3 minutes.