Whip It (US - BD RA)
Gabe's figure skating skills probably wouldn't serve him in the roller derby...
Struggling to find her place in life, Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) a small town misfit is dragged by her overbearing mother from one beauty pageant. In an attempt to escape their small town blues, Bliss and her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat) drive to Austin to see a roller derby match. After the match the friends approach Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) to express their excitement, and Bliss is offered a chance to try out for the team. Knowing that her parents wouldn’t approve, and that she’s technically not old enough to participate alone, Bliss makes up a story, buys some roller skates, and lies about her age. Under the new name of Babe Ruthless she joins the Hurl Scouts, and starts her trip to roller derby stardom.
The modern Roller Girl phenomenon has not passed me by unnoticed. Besides having friends that participate in the sport, I’ve found myself generally charmed at its very existence. It’s hardly a shock that dressing pretty girls in colourful costumes and releasing them on a shabby, dirty track with roller skates is entertaining and invigorating. Frankly I’m surprised it took this long to make a mainstream, non-pornographic film on the subject. I do get the feeling that this film wasn’t the audience writer Shauna Cross and director Drew Barrymore had in mind when they made the film, but Whip It isn’t exactly an exclusive engagement either. Those with the most in common with Page’s character will likely benefit the most, but a large cross-section of the audience can likely relate to yet another underdog story. The characters are relatable and sweet, and the actors pull of some very familiar tropes with genuine affection. Poor Ellen Page, who is probably going to be stuck playing children for another decade, is another social misfit, but this time she’s not playing someone as self assured or aggressive as Juno or Hayley Stark, and she’s surrounded by capable and beautiful supporting players with charm to burn.
As an occasional witness to the actual sport who found himself utterly confused by the scoring system I appreciate Barrymore’s direction during the derby scenes, and the scoring explanation sequences, which aren’t totally insulting. The action direction is actually quite impressive and frenetic, kind of like a miniature version of the original Roller Ball without all the gore. The climatic match pulls out some real stops, and is enough to raise a few goose bumps. The ‘Us vs. Them’ alternative culture stuff is pretty heavy-handed, but is mostly told in visual terms. The bigger issue is the utterly familiar sports movie formula, from underdog to mean-spirited villainous with a complex, and supportive sister figure. It’s almost impossible not to guess where the narrative is going from scene to scene, which makes the inevitable third act crisis a pretty brutal inevitability. The predictability overshadows much of the film’s humour and sweetness, though the build up to Bliss’ father’s (Daniel Stern) little character arc is an utterly tender little inevitability.
Whip It is shot to be bright and colourful, like the roller derby itself, with relatively high contrast, and a mostly soft minded lighting scheme. This Blu-ray’s 1080p transfer is presented in 2.40:1 widescreen, which sometimes looks a little too tight to me. Artistic framing choices aside, this is a solid transfer with only a few minor inconsistencies in clarity. The overall film is slightly yellow in hue, which leads to some minor noise and grain in darker scenes, but the overall composition is very clean, featuring only a fine grain overlay, which is hard to notice for the most part. The blacks are deep, solid and deep, and cut subtly against the brighter hues, which pop effectively throughout the film. It’s hard to not appreciate all the neon costumes and decorative derby lighting schemes. Small details include colourful strands of hair, intricate tattoos, and Alia Shawkat’s teeny-tiny facial freckles, and they’re all plenty sharp, as are the wide angle details of the derby track, and the choice sights of Austin, Texas. It’s not quite a reference quality disc, but there’s nothing to complain about either.
Whip It doesn’t quite live up to the rock and roll atmosphere of the roller derby, but this DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio track doesn’t feature any obvious errors or shortcomings beyond a general lack of stuff going on. The majority of the track is either clear and even center channel dialogue and incidental effects, or light surround and stereo ambience. The derby scenes are the most obvious moments of aural excess, but even these are mostly a central assault, with a few directional movements, and a solid bass presence in the rolling thunder of those skates. The source music, including lots of punchy pop and punk rock, is mixed a little lower than I’d prefer in most cases, especially when it becomes the dominant sound element, but there’s no complaining about the actual sound clarity. The music is devoted mostly to the front three channels, even during the live music scenes, which scores a few rear channel echo effects. The movie scores huge points with me personally for ending with my favourite Young M.C. song, ‘Know How’.
I would’ve enjoyed a cast commentary with this particular disc, simply because the cast seems to be having so much fun during the brief blooper montage at the end of the film, but alas, Barrymore doesn’t even go it solo here. The brief extras start with a series of nine deleted/extended scenes (16:10, HD). These are more of the extended variety, and mostly just fill in some character moments. They add a bit to the supporting cast (especially Alia Shawkat and Andrew Wilson), but nothing really to the story as a whole. ‘Fox Movie Channel Presents Writer’s Draft: Shauna Cross’ (3:00, SD) is a very short look behind the script with the writer, made to show between movies on the Fox Movie Channel. Things end with an ad for the original soundtrack release, and other Fox trailers.
Whip It is an assured directorial debut from actress Drew Barrymore, but it’s only as good as its cast and characters. The script is a mish-mash of every underdog story you’ve ever seen, and is thusly incredibly predictable, but it’s perfectly entertaining and relatively endearing. The Blu-ray release looks very clean and colourful, and sounds good enough, if not a little low on volume, but the extras are disappointing, consisting of only a handful of deleted scenes and some promotional material. I suppose the menu system is at least cool, but fans will likely be disappointed with the lack of commentary and behind the scenes featurettes.
Review by Gabriel Powers
Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13
Release Date: 26th January 2010
Disc Type: Blu-ray Disc
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English, Dolby Digital 5.1 French and Spanish
Subtitles: English SDH and Spanish
Extras: Deleted/Alternate Scenes, Fox Movie Channel Presents: Writer's Draft, Digital Copy
Easter Egg: No
Director: Drew Barrymore
Cast: Ellen Page, Drew Barrymore, Kristen Wiig, Sarah Habel, Shannon Eagen
Genre: Comedy, Drama and Sport
Length: 111 minutes
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