Saturday, 27 February 2010

Today's Viewing & Reviews: The Crazies + Whip It + [●REC]2

Whip It

For a concept which sounds shaky at best, Whip It garnered good word of mouth when it opened in the US last year, with Kevin Smith even hailing it his favourite film of 2009. The idea of a Drew Barrymore-directed (leftfield) sports movie with elements of coming of age drama isn’t the most inspiring of genre-hybrids. After an inauspicious first five minutes I was unimpressed, failing to see why such praise was being bestowed on it. That was until I realised I was criticising it because it wasn’t Juno, which isn’t really fair.

What it does share with Juno is a lead actress in Ellen Page. Here she plays Bliss Cavendar, an indie-spirited teen adrift in small town Texas, forced to compete in beauty pageants to appease her overbearing mother (Marcia Gay Harden). When she discovers the world of roller derby, filled with riot grrls and camaraderie, she’s instantly hooked - but what will her mother say?

While Whip It isn’t going to win any awards for breaking new ground, what it does have in spades is warmth and heart. The script is funny without being forced. The humour is natural and flows well, only falling flat when it does attempt to paint with broad strokes (particularly in any scene featuring Jimmy Fallon’s derby announcer).

For anyone unfamiliar, roller derby is a full contact, high-speed sport played, unsurprisingly, on roller skates. The punky competitors have their own unique identities and witty nicknames (Bloody Holly, Eva Destruction, Rosa Sparks) and don’t hold back when it comes to laying-out an opponent.

The plight of Page’s Bliss comes across as slightly heavy-handed and I’m not sure the extreme dichotomy of pageants vs punch-ups was entirely necessary. Surely it’s sufficient that her character is railing against the small town mentality without having the character forced into pretty dresses and speechmaking.

If you’re willing to suspend your cynicism and go along with it, it’s wonderfully retro with an almost Karate Kid-like vibe. It rattles through sports movie clichés at a rate of noughts, from the team of underdogs to the mid-section training montage but the focus on characterisation keeps it from floundering. By the point when grievances are being aired by the medium of a food fight, it’s so infectious that I was completely sold.

The roller derby scenes themselves are hugely enjoyable to watch. There’s a visceral energy to them compounded by the fact the sport is relatively unfamiliar. The badinage among team-mates (including director Drew Barrymore, Kristen Wiig and the amazing Zoë Bell) seems genuine and heartfelt, without losing anything in sass. Even the adversity Bliss faces in the derby world (from Juliette Lewis) has a psychological grounding beyond that of most other films of the genre.

It’s aided by a great soundtrack showcasing the best of post-millennial indie and even the scenes that cry out ‘only in movies’ are beautifully shot and innovative, particularly an underwater coupling.

From a simple premise, it’s helped along by a warm script and great cast. The central core of competing with maternal aspirations and finding something in your life has resonance beyond strapping on skates and, as a whole, the film is far more touching and entertaining than it really deserves to be.

Hands-down, the most flat-out enjoyable film I’ve seen in ages. As Devo once sang, “Whip It good”.


Read my tweaked review of Whip It over at

1 comment:

  1. I liked [REC] 2 but haven't had a chance to catch The Crazies as of yet.

    Saw The Ghost Writer yesterday and enjoyed it a lot more than I thought I would. I had been worried because last week at work I happened to go downstairs when a screening of it was getting out and was pretty certain people had spoiled it for me. Thankfully not, which meant I was able to enjoy the mind effing.