Monday, October 19, 2009

Barrymore whips it good

"Whip It"
3 1/2 Stars

By Joe Maniscalco

If you’re letting Drew Barrymore’s dippy movie star persona keep you away from her directorial debut “Whip It,” you’re missing something.

While the first-time helmer is guilty of a few cinematic miscues here and there — she gives short shrift to supporting players and lets the narrative wander a bit — Barrymore is spot on in the female empowerment department.

Note to other first-time directors: if at all possible, get the magnetic Ellen Page to star in your movie because her brilliance will likely outshine any of your shortcomings.

Forget that the waifish wunderkind is physically just about the last person in the world you’d expect to become a steamrolling roller derby star (what is she, 95 pounds?), Page is thoroughly convincing and all together engaging as disaffected Texas teen Bliss Cavendar.

Eschewing her working-class mom’s debutante delusions, Bliss discovers liberation on the roller derby track after crossing paths with a couple of her future teammates in town.

To be clear, the film’s feminism has nothing to do with male-bashing or male-envy and everything to do with intelligence, authenticity and courage.

Matter of fact, if your daughter walks out of “Whip It” hoping to in some way emulate Page’s character, then you’ve gotten your money’s worth.

Although the world of roller derby might be novel to those who haven’t tuned in for awhile, “Whip It” travels a familiar track of teenage angst, rebellion and ultimate reconciliation.

First off, Bliss’ mom and dad don’t know she’s sneaking off to skate with the rowdy gals of the roller derby — there would be hell to pay if they did. Her best friend is starting to feel a little left out, and there’s an aging, but tough-as-nails roller derby queen unwilling to relinquish her crown without a fight.

Toss in a fledgling romance, constant elbows to the face, and young Bliss certainly has a lot to deal with.

Throughout it all, however, Barrymore remains true to her leading lady, never allowing her to succumb to convention or cliche.

Simply put: Bliss rocks.

“Whip It.” Directed by Drew Barrymore. Starring Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harding, Alia Shawkat, Kristen Wiig and Daniel Stern. Rated PG-13. 111 minutes.

Playing at the Pavilion Cinema, Bay Ridge Alpine Cinemas, and UA Court Street.


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