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Several of the Grouches got a sneak peak at the new Ellen Page roller derby comedy Whip It the other night. Drew Barrymore makes her directorial debut in this story about a small town Texas teen discovering herself and coming of age in Austin’s roller derby circuit. Kristen Wiig, Marcia Gay Harden, Jimmy Fallon, Alia Shawkat, Juliette Lewis, and Andrew Wilson (brother of Luke and Owen) also appear. While it’s not likely to garner any awards attention, Ellen Page is a Grouches (and awards circuit) darling and Whip It did premiere at the Oscar springboard Toronto International Film Festival.


I really, really hated this movie. When it comes time to talk directing awards we often note that it’s tough to tell what makes a well-directed movie and how to separate the directing from a film’s other components. I’ve generally looked at shot and editing choices, tone, and pacing but really it often comes down to whether the director has created a good movie.

This is a poorly-directed film. I don’t have any feelings either way for Barrymore in general, but she should stick to acting. Every cliched shot possible can be found in this movie. Beyond that it’s unfocused and messy. It felt like they had an idea of some cool scenes and made it up as they went along. No sports movie cliche goes unused and never in a clever or ironic fashion. The themes are handled clumsily. The acting is hammy. It does have some funny moments and interesting, albeit underdeveloped, characters. Page’s parents I found particularly fascinating.

But if roller derby is such a grrrrl power sport, why are all the announcers, refs, and coaches male?


Whip It fits comfortably into the sports movie genre, perhaps too much so.  Think A League of Their Own, only with more physical violence and less-developed characters.  The film hits most of the familiar tropes (including having an awesome soundtrack), but rarely deviates from them.  So it feels a little paint-by-numbers, which is fine if you like standard sports flicks, but it just means you have to tolerate a few weak and/or cliche subplots.  The supporting cast is filled with interesting people, and it sure appears that they had a lot of fun filming, unfortunately they have to work with extremely stock characters, so their enthusiasm can only add so much.  Ellen Page shines in the lead, not just because she’s ridiculously cute.  If you go in expecting something TBS will show as part of a sports movie marathon one Sunday afternoon, you probably won’t be disappointed.

October 2009
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