Directed by Drew Barrymore (2009)
by Rosalie Kicks!,
Old Sport at Moviejawn
My initial feeling after watching Whip It was: MEH. Then I re-watched Ghost World.
OK. So let’s go back in time for a moment. 2001. Video Stores. You guys remember video stores, right? That time when robots didn’t tell us what to watch, algorithms didn’t exist, and we had the freedom of choice. Well, in 2001 my best friend and I often wound up in a video store on a Friday night. We would wander the aisles looking for movies that often were not part of the mainstream…the more obscure or unusual the box cover the better. This is how we found Punch-Drunk Love, The Boy with Green Hair, and GHOST WORLD.
Ghost World was us. I was Enid, she was Becky. I know what you’re thinking, what does this have to do with Whip It? Wellllll…Whip It was released in 2009. I watched this movie a few weeks ago. After an initial viewing I couldn’t help but bash it. One negative comment after another about this thing. However, maybe it was the punk vibes or the rebellious attitude but something encouraged me to put on Ghost World immediately afterwards. Blast to the past like whoa guys. This flick somehow instantly transformed into a teen again. And boy was I wrong. I was wrong to be so dismissive of Whip It. Whip It was not a bad movie; I was simply too old for it.
Ghost World made me remember what it was like to not fit in and not have your place in the world. It made me remember what it was like to be like Bliss (Ellen Page) in Whip It. As a young girl, I never really felt comfortable in my own skin. Never knew my place until I found punk music. This was a place where I could just be me. People were not concerned with the way you looked or if you smelled (yes I had a “no shower” phase). You could just be yourself. I remember as a teen there were very few movies that I honestly could relate to. The majority of movies portrayed girls as an object. To be liked all you had to do was fix your hair, put on some make up, and you know, become someone you are not. Except these girls, wellllll they looked nothing like me. They had perfect skin, blonde hair, were small. I had bad skin, brown hair, and was as tall as Frankenstein. Movies like She’s All That pissed me off. There was no way in HELL I was changing for some boy. You either like me for who I am or make a like a tree & leave.
Whip It tells the story of a girl, Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) - an outcast from a small Texas town who is searching for a place to belong. The movie opens at a Beauty Pageant. Bliss is in the bathroom with her best friend who is helping her dye her hair. Bliss’ mother is eagerly awaiting Bliss’ presence on stage; these pageants are her life. To her dismay she finds that her daughter’s hair is now BLUE. Bliss’ mother is mortified and immediately takes Bliss to a salon to have it “corrected”. This opening shows the conflict between mother and daughter as well as the goal the mother has to make Bliss someone she is not.
After a trip to Austin, TX Bliss runs into some roller derby girls. She is intrigued and this leads her down a path of lying to her parents in order to pursue a place to belong. Some of the uninteresting subplot material was: Bliss having conflict with another roller derby lady aka Juliette Lewis (still can’t believe she was only 36 - she definitely looked 56), Bliss pissing off her bestfriend, and of course Bliss finding love. I understand the point of these little snippets, but they were a bore specifically the love story. What’s important about the story is that it has a girl front and center - a girl that is NOT your typical Hollywood female character.
During this movie we are on a journey with Bliss. We watch her find something that is meaningful. Something that empowers her. If I would have watched this movie as a teen I would have felt inspired (definitely would have wanted to join roller derby); I would have loved this thing. It would have been so refreshing to see a strong female character that isn’t using looks and high heels to make it in this world. Instead it portrayed someone with guts to go after something she loved and be true to herself. There are two scenes in particular that stick out to me as great moments:
One: After seeing her first Roller Derby match, Bliss tells Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) that they are now her heroes. Maggie responds, “put some skates on, be your own hero.” Hell yes! Ladies encouraging ladies, ummmm…this is a theme that is very rarely portrayed even in old sport Hollywood flicks today. Instead we are witness to women tearing one another down in order to get ahead. I believe Whip It is trying to tell girls not to live your life through other people instead LIVE YOUR OWN LIFE. Be true to yourself.
Two: When Bliss tells her mom that she is in love with Roller Derby. Not gonna lie, your favorite old sport got a little choked up. I remember when I made my first film. I remember those butterfly feelings of being on set and realizing this is IT, this is all I ever want to do. It reminded me of the lengths you will go to when you find that one thing that truly makes you tick. It also reminded me that I need to get off my ass and start making movies again. Movies that tell a story that other girls like me could relate to.
Overall. I appreciate what Whip It was trying to say and think Drew has something to be proud of with her first feature flick (honestly preferred her behind the camera rather than in front, her acting was not that great in this). When I returned the movie to the library, I looked at the dvd box and the words “BE YOUR OWN HERO” stared right back at me. In that instant my summer plans were realized: Green Hair. Report back to the mission: Make Movies.