Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Video review: "Whip It"

When you say "roller derby," a lot of people bring to mind an image of a cheesy sport on roller skates that briefly captured the public imagination back in the 1970s. It's been reborn in recent years as a sport for wheeled women who want to showcase their bruises and bad attitudes.

"Whip It" wants to be the anthem for a generation of derby girls, and it serves that role, if fitfully. Ellen Page plays Bliss, a small-town teen who gets caught up in the derby craze, much to the consternation of her mother, who thinks beauty pageants are more ladylike.

But after going to a local match, Bliss is enamored by the tough, fun-loving girls of the Hurl Scouts -- even if they're the league bottom-feeders. Drew Barrymore, who also directed the film, has a small role, and other players include Eve, Kristen Wiig and Juliette Lewis.

Soon Bliss -- renamed Babe Ruthless -- is winging her way around the oval, trading elbows and having the time of her life.

If the movie has a downside, it's the downbeat second act, in which Bliss struggles in romance with an older boy in a band, and squabbles with her family and best friend. It all seems like a cynical ploy whose only reason for existing is to set up the big match at the end, in which Bliss' uptight parents learn to embrace their daughters' newfound passion.

But there's no denying the brash energy of this movie, which taps into a more modern, punk-rock take on feminism.

Video extras for "Whip It" are rather miserly, although the Blu-ray has a little more to offer than the DVD.

Both include nine deleted/extended scenes totaling about 16 minutes worth of material. Only the alternate opening scene, in which Bliss and friend dumpster-dive from the roof of the tacky little restaurant where they work, is worthwhile.

The Blu-ray also has "Writer's Draft" feature with Cross, plus a digital copy of the film.
What a shame -- a commentary track by Page, Barrymore and Wiig could've been a grrrl-power hoot.

Movie: 2.5 stars
Extras: 1.5 stars

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