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You must Whip it!

by Archives October 6, 2009 30 comments

“By day, the girls are waitresses, nurses and teachers. By night, they give the crowd what they want.”
So says Jimmy Fallon, as the announcer at the Austin, Texas Roller Derby, the event at the heart of Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It.
Bliss (Ellen Paige) lives in small town Texas, with her pageant-centric mother, her cute as pie sister and her father who wishes he had spawned boys who play sports. Bliss is a wallflower, working at the local burger place (the OinkJoint) with her outspoken best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) and begrudgingly participating in pageants for her mother.
That is, until she discovers the Hurl Scouts.
A tough group of chicks, the Hurl Scouts compete in the sport of roller derby, which involves speed skating, body checking and a kick-ass attitude. Bliss joins the team after seeing them play and earns the name Babe Ruthless (every member gets her own nickname).
Although the plot has been done to death, Whip It seems fresh thanks to a vivacious group of actors and director, Barrymore.
The cast, including Barrymore (who played the wild Smashley Simpson), was rounded out by many fine supporting actors, none better than Kristen Wiig (Hurl Scouts leader Maggie Mayhem) and Marcia Gay Harden as Bliss’ mother. Wiig, known best for her work on Saturday Night Live, can wield a monotone one-liner like no other, while Harden masterfully anchors the heartfelt emotional mother-daughter moments of the film.
The Concordian was able to speak with some of the cast of Whip It by video conference, from California. Barrymore said she works differently than most directors and is able to extract the best work from her actors that way. “I love to keep the camera rolling,” she said. “I think you can get three very different line readings if you do them three different times in a row rather than cutting between each take.”
As an experienced actress, Barrymore was able to control scenes while also letting them flow naturally. “I think it’s about just getting out there and being in a sort of boxing match with your actors, and trusting them, and inspiring each other,” she said.
Shawkat, who played the best friend Pash, said that Barrymore was one of the better directors she’s worked with. “She is very patient, I trusted her,” she said. “She’s very pretty . . . I like that.”
Barrymore, however, did not allow herself to be the pretty character in her own film. In fact the opposite occurred, as she was constantly the derby member who would get hurt. From elbows to the face to a broken neck Barrymore played every punch for laughs, resulting in comedic gold.
Whip It may be generic in format, but it is a rambunctious ride through adolescence and a little known sport accompanied by a stellar soundtrack.

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