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Tired of following in her family's footsteps of compliance and conformity, Bliss discovers a way to put her life on the fast track...literally. She lands a spot on a rough-and-tumble roller derby team and becomes "Babe Ruthless" - the hottest thing on eight wheels!
For more about Whip It and the Whip It Blu-ray release, see Whip It Blu-ray Review published by Casey Broadwater on January 28, 2010 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Starring: Ellen Page, Sarah Habel, Shannon Eagen, Jimmy Fallon, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig
Director: Drew Barrymore
» See full cast & crew
Whip It Blu-ray Review
“Put some skates on, be your own hero.”
Reviewed by Casey Broadwater, January 28, 2010
As a cultural phenomenon, modern roller derby is just as improbable as pole-sitting or competitive eating. Who'd have thought an obscure sport that peaked in the '70s could be resurrected as a grrrl-power subculture that combines the athleticism of speed skating with the camp theatrics of The Rocky Horror Picture Show? The brilliant thing about it is that it works; it's punk and burlesque, it's sporty and intense, and it rolls with a particular brand of feminism that's both self- empowering and unabashedly sexy. It takes confidence to pull on fishnets, lace up a pair of old- school skates, and take to the rink with a bunch of similarly attired hipsters, all hell-bent on taking each other out with a fury normally reserved for hurricanes and Norse gods. If the Olympic committee, by some stroke of hare-brained genius, decided to add roller derby to its roster of otherwise vanilla sports, I guarantee you TV ratings would rocket faster than a she-devil on wheels. So, in many ways, Whip It, Drew Barrymore's directorial debut and the first derby-centric feature film, coasts on the sport's undeniable mystique. The film's faults—an overly familiar plot, sports movie clichés, and a shaky sense of dramatic tension—are easily overridden by the uniqueness of its subject matter and the sheer joy that Barrymore seems to have invested in the production.
Ellen Page stars, but Juno-on-wheels this ain't. Nor is it Little Miss Sunshine-on- skates or Napoleon Dynamite-takes-to-the-rink, though Whip It's brand of quirky, coming-of-age comedy is in no small way indebted to all three films. Page plays small- town Texan teen Bliss Cavendar, and whether or not her surname is supposed to sound like cadaver, it certainly suits the character. See, Bliss is essentially an empty shell who has yet to find her soul, her personality, her passion. Her mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) is a former beauty queen who's pushing her daughter to follow suite, enrolling her in ultra-prim pageants and foisting what Bliss calls "a psychotic idea of '50s womanhood." Bliss' turtle of a dad Earl (Daniel Stern) is content to hide away in his shell of a van, watching football games instead of confronting the missus. And to complete this perfect scenario of rural teen ennui, Bliss waits tables with her best friend Pash (Arrested Development's Alia Shawkat) at The Oink Joint, where the two of them dodge fumbling passes from their inexplicably named manager, Birdman (Carlo Alban), who is to this film what the mustachioed and socially awkward Pedro is to Napoleon Dynamite.
Screenwriter Shauna Cross gives us a fairly standard I can't wait to get the hell out of this podunk town set-up, but the second Bliss sees a group of tattooed, rough 'n tumble roller girls skate through the door of a thrift shop, the film picks up style and speed and rarely slows down. Before you know it, Bliss is secretly taking the geriatric Bingo bus to downtown Austin, where she's found a second family in the Hurl Scouts, an underdog roller derby team led by the motherly Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), coached by the bearded, sweat-band and denim cut- offs-wearing Razor (Andrew Wilson), and made up of women with kick-ass pseudonyms like Bloody Holly (Zoë Bell), Smashley Simpson (Drew Barrymore), and Rosa Sparks (Eve Jihan Jeffers). As it turns out, Bliss—who now goes by Babe Ruthless—is quite a natural and leads her team on a winning streak to the championship, which is inconveniently scheduled to take place on the night of the Ms. Bluebonnet pageant, which means the world to her mom. Other conflicts inevitably arise: Pash is jealous of Bliss' new life, Bliss falls for a gangly musician (Landon Pigg) who steals her heart and runs with it, and rival skater Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) wants to out the mighty Babe Ruthless as underage and unfit to participate.
As a sports movie, a young love story, an indie comedy, and a drama of the leave the nest and learn to fly variety, Whip It employs some almost unavoidable conventions that would seem much too familiar if it weren't for the one-of-a-kind shot of adrenaline that roller derby gives to the film. All the clichés are here—the training montage and "the big game," the loss of innocence, the idiosyncratic characters, the painful family feuds and tender reconciliations —but the sports action is genuinely intense, the comedy's quirks are fun and unaffected, and the film manages to be sweet while avoiding the sticky quagmire of sentimentality. Considering the drippy stuff that's normally aimed at the film's teen girl demographic—and having reviewed the Fame remake last week, I speak from experience—Whip It is fresh-faced and edgy in comparison. And for what it sets out to do, the film is quite successful. While only minor tweaks are made to the coming-of-age genre's adolescent sturm and drang, Whip It absolutely nails that feeling of wanting to get out, of wanting to find an identity that's drastically different from that of your parents, of confronting an overwhelming but intoxicating new world that's literally and figuratively miles apart from whatever slow-paced backwater burg you once called home.
It's also good to see a film written by, directed by, and prominently starring women, a film that deconstructs traditional notions of femininity in much the same way that the Hurl Scouts wear Girl Scout uniforms that have been torn up, re-sewn, and repurposed to reflect an overturned ideology. Many of the girls' derby names—Iron Maven, Bloody Holly, Babe Ruthless—are puns, yes, but they're also takes on typically male identities that connote strength, determination, and violence. Whip It is a film where women can be powerful, even if, or rather, especially if they're in roles usually seen as socially weak, like Maggie Mayhem, a single mom who knows the value of responsibility but can still blaze up the rink. Drew Barrymore leads Whip It's cavalcade of female filmmakers, and though her direction seems uncertain and unfocused at times—especially during the action scenes—there's an exuberance to her shots and sequences that's impossible to fake. The cast seems just as committed. Marcia Gay Harden takes what could've been a one-sided role as Bliss' mom and gives it humanity, Kristin Wiig is utterly surprising if you've only ever seen her on SNL, and Juliette Lewis sneers and snarls with a menace that's perfectly insecure. I only wish we could've spent more time with some of the other characters, like stuntwoman Zoë Bell's Bloody Holly. But this film belongs to Babe Ruthless. If you're expecting Ellen Page to prattle on and on in Diablo Cody-speak as she did in Juno, you'll probably be pleased to hear that she plays Bliss with more heart than sarcastic sass, and while she may not be the most interesting character circling the track, she's certainly more than capable as the emotional core of the film, reminding us that inside every insecure girl wearing Barbie skates, there's the potential for an all-out roller derby vixen.
Whip It Blu-ray, Video Quality
Whip It tears up the track on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC-encoded transfer that's as sexy and brassy as the roller girls themselves. The image is supersaturated with the bright, flashy colors of a bright, flashy subculture. See the Hurl Scouts' pine green uniforms, the yellow star that adorns Babe Ruthless' helmet, the pig pink aprons at the Oink Joint, deep purple bruises, Smashley Simpson's crimson nosebleed, and the red, white, and blue of Johnny "Hot Tub" Rocket's LED-light boutonniere. Skin tones too are healthy and natural, tight contrast results in a vivid, dimensional image, and black levels reach oily depths while preserving shadow detail in all but the darkest scenes. Likewise, the texture work is fantastic—note the discernable threading in Earl Cavendar's tri-blend heather gray t-shirt—extra-fine detail is apparent in nearly every shot, and the overall image is as crisp as it is colorful. The transfer also succeeds on a technical level; the film's ultra-thin grain structure is untouched, unwarranted edge enhancement is wholly absent, and banding, macroblocking, and other compression-related anomalies are nowhere to be seen. Quite simply, this is a wonderful transfer from Fox that's sure to please videophiles and roller derby enthusiasts alike.
Whip It Blu-ray, Audio Quality
"Clean, clear, and under control," is the motto for a particular brand of acne medication, but the same could be said for Whip It's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, which is clean (absolutely), clear (indelibly), but perhaps a bit too under control considering roller derby's brash punk aesthetic. Don't get me wrong, the mix sounds great as it is, but it's not quite as potent, aggressive, or immersive as it could've been. Before watching the film, I imagined all the sonic possibilities inherent in roller derby's elbow-to-the-face brutality: the sound of skates whooshing through the surround speakers at breakneck speed, bone-crushing tackles, road rash-inducing face plants, and the roar of the crowd commingling with the steady thrum of overdriven guitar. And yes, we do get a bit of that, but this dial doesn't quite go to 11, if you know what I mean. The rear channels are engaged through much of the film, but the track still seems somewhat front-heavy to me, mostly because it plays it safe by keeping the volume of sound effects and ambience fairly low, allowing dialogue to be easily heard. There's nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but a harder hitting track would go a long way in selling the intensity of the sport. That said, when the music kicks in, this track takes off with plenty of low-end and detailed highs. The soundtrack is fantastic too, featuring The Ramones, The Breeders, and Cut Chemist, among many others.
Whip It Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
I'm a little disappointed with Whip It's meager supplementary offerings, especially considering the possibilities. I would've been stoked to have a documentary on real life roller girls, a commentary track with first-time director Drew Barrymore and key members of the cast, or even a standard making-of featurette. Unfortunately, our bonus options are quite limited. Deleted Scenes (SD, 16:14) includes an alternate opening and eight other deleted or extended scenes, all of them rightfully trimmed. Fox Movie Channel Presents Writer's Draft: Shauna Cross of Whip It (SD, 3:04) is a brief interview with the screenwriter, who explains the origins of the story in her own past as a derby girl. And finally, Whip It Soundtrack Spot (SD, 00:32) is a short promo for the soundtrack album, which is available on CD or—appropriately enough—on two pink LPs.
Whip It Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Whip It is one of those films that's easy to love despite its flaws—it's got infectious energy, buoyant performances, a killer soundtrack, and if that weren't enough, it's all about roller derby, the kookiest, kitschiest, sexiest sport to ever be ironically revived and then unironically embraced. The film looks and sounds great on Blu-ray too—I'm not sure about the neon green case, though—and despite the unfortunate lack of supplementary features, derby fans will definitely want this one sitting on their shelves. Recommended.
Blu-ray bundles with Whip It (1 bundle)
Whip It Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Whip It Blu-ray Gets Detailed - December 8, 2009
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has announced the technical specs and special features for the upcoming Blu-ray release of 'Whip It', which is scheduled to be released on January 26th. This roller derby comedy starring Ellen Page (Juno) and directed by Drew ...
• Drew Barrymore's Whip It Coming to Blu-ray - November 4, 2009
In an early announcement to retailers, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment has revealed that they will bring Drew Barrymore's directorial debut 'Whip It' to Blu-ray on January 26th, day-and-date with the DVD release. Technical specs have not been announced at this ...
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