Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Whip It (2009)

Whip ItRoller Derby. I can easily remember turning on the television and watching the Los Angeles T-Birds. Personally, I didn't know if this was a true sport or if it was like wrestling and it was just sports entertainment. But I was hooked. Not sure if it was the blonde women with poofy hair throwing other women out of the rink or that one person who didn't look should be on the rink, actually kicking butt. Needless to say, that roller derby has had its following for decades and now here we are with a film based on a character who takes part in roller derby competitions.

"Whip It" marks the directorial debut by actress Drew Barrymore ("E.T.", "50 First Dates", "The Wedding Singer", "Charlie's Angels" films) and is an adaptation of the novel "Derby Girl" by Shauna Cross, a fictionalized book of skating with the TXRD Lonestar Rollergirls.

The independent film was released in theaters during the fall of 2009 and now makes its Blu-ray and DVD debut. The Blu-ray edition comes with a second disc which contains a digital copy of the film.


"Whip It" is presented in 1080 High Definition (Widescreen 2:40:1), AVC @ 36 MBPS. The film sports vibrant colors with the Hurl Scouts green outfits, while amber lights shine on the roller derby rink. You can see details in the surroundings, especially injuries ala bloody noses to bruises. Even the tattoos on Kristen Wiig are seen much clearly on HD. Skin tones are natural and blacks are nice and deep. Everything is visible from the freckles of Pash, to the sweat and tears of Bliss and the other girls during competition or the more emotional scenes of the film. I will say that at first, I thought this was a period film shot in the '80s but you realize that the film focuses on Bliss living in a very small town.

There is a fine amount of grain in the film and I didn't notice any compression artifacts, banding or any sign of DNR. A solid Blu-ray release in terms of PQ from Fox.

As for the audio, "Whip It" is featured in English 5.1 DTS-HD MA and Spanish, French 5.1 Dolby Digital. The film is front and center channel driven. Dialogue and music are both crystal clear but there is minimal use of surrounds. You can hear crowd ambiance and the women racing on the rink and hitting the side rails and hearing the skates but its not immersive as I would have hoped but still, the film is not all about the roller derby and there are plenty of dialogue scenes and music-driven scenes that are very clear, with some songs having a nice kick of bass. A pretty interesting soundtrack as well from '80s 38 Special's "Caught Up in You" to music from the Ramones and the Breeders.

Subtitles are in English SDH and Spanish.


"Whip It" comes with a digital copy of the film and comes with a few special features:

* Deleted Scenes (16:14) Included is an alternate opening and eight deleted scenes.

* Fox Movie Channel Presents Writer's Draft: Shauna Cross of "Whip It" (3:04) A short featurette with an interview with novel and screenwriter Shauna Cross about "Whip It".

* Whip It Soundtrack Spot (:32) A promotional for the "Whip It" soundtrack.


"Whip It" may seem like a film about roller derby and the antics that go behind-the-scenes of the sport but truthfully, the film has many layers. From a coming-of-age film, a relationship movie and a girl power film, there are a good number of things going on in this film that there is far much more to enjoy than expected.

I have to admit that Drew Barrymore's directorial debut definitely shows promise. The actress has starred in so many films since she was a child and has worked with a good number of quality director's, I had no doubt that she would do a pretty solid job.

Part of the challenge of "Whip It" is bringing together this wild bunch of characters that the character Bliss associates with and then bringing this other side of her life as a teenager from a small town, having an overbearing pageant mother and working at a fast food restaurant while trying to maintain her friendship with her high school friends and then finding love. Definitely not an easy task for Barrymore but one thing she does have is the original author Shauna Cross involved with the screenplay and she has a talented actress in Ellen Page in the main role.

At first glance, I didn't know if Page can pull of such a role but as she did with "Juno" she manages to pull of Bliss very well for "Whip It".

As for the other supporting characters, personally I don't if roller derby lifestyles are similar to what is depicted in the movie. As much as I do enjoy Barrymore's directorial debut, her role as Smashley Simpson is a bit too much while I do feel Kristen Wiig manages to pull off another solid supporting role like she has done in "Extract" and Juliette Lewis still does a great job in portraying the bad girl. Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern (who plays Bliss's father) also do a good job as the parents of Bliss.

As for the Blu-ray, the picture quality for the film was very good and the lossless audio was satisfactory but it would have been great to have it a bit more immersive via use of the surround channels. And it would have been great to have audio commentary by Barrymore and Shauna Cross or even a featurette on how the talent prepared for the film or even Behind-the-scenes footage. I felt the special features were a bit short for this Blu-ray release. But as for the film, "Whip It" is an entertaining, humorous and a solid coming-of-age, feel-good style of film. And again, although roller derby does play a big part in this film, "Whip It" is not an all out sports movie. The film has many layers to it and fortunately, the solid performances definitely made this film enjoyable.

Overall, "Whip It" is a solid directorial debut from Drew Barrymore and fine performances by Ellen Page and its supporting cast makes this film better than expected.

Not all movies are made to be Oscar contenders. Many are made to simply fill theater seats and offer solid entertainment and an enjoyable time. More often than not, these films offer a chance to see heroes made or characters that get the opportunity to follow their dreams. Such is the case with WHIP IT, the directorial debut of Drew Barrymore.

Bliss Cavender (Ellen Page) is an unenthusiastic beauty queen contestant. Fulfilling the dreams of her mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) more than herself, Bliss does as she is told between school and working at the local BBQ restaurant. Bliss feels nothing more than trapped in small town Bowdeen, Texas.

While clothes shopping with her mother in Austin, Bliss happens to see a group of girls on skates come into the store they're in. Leaving behind a stack of flyers, Bliss picks one up to see that these are roller derby competitors trying to promote their next match.

Sneaking off with best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat), Bliss is totally taken in by the whole scene. The match takes place in a converted warehouse where emcee Johnny Rocket (Jimmy Fallon) announces the girls as they make their way to the track. With names like Iron Maven, Smashly Simpson and Maggie Mayhem you can tell this is no skate in the park. The girls come out rocking and knocking, making an impression on young Bliss. When she tells Maggie afterwards that she is her new hero, Maggie suggests she come to practice and try out.

Once home, Bliss begins skating once more in her Barbie skates, remnants of times gone by. She progresses from just being able to stand to skating through town. The day comes and she sneaks off again for Austin just in time to try out. With more speed than most of the rest trying out, Bliss gets her chance. Now all she has to do is sneak off to the matches.

The girls welcome Bliss in as one of the Hurl Scouts, a losing team that has resolved to stay in last place. But with the speed Bliss shows them and the ribbing they take from the other squads, the team slowly gels into a force to be reckoned with. It also makes Bliss a target for Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis), an aging star who wants to retain her position.

Along the way Bliss also picks up a new boyfriend. Oliver (Landon Pigg) is a member of a band that played at one of the house parties thrown by the team. The pair seems to connect but an upcoming tour tosses them into the possibility of a break up.

As Bliss, now known as Babe Ruthless, moves into the world of roller derby, she begins to distance herself from her friends. And when her parents find out about her lies (as does her team when it's revealed she's too young to skate without her parent's permission), Bliss finds herself alone.

The team now has a chance at the finals. The only thing stopping this from happening is Bliss' family. Resigned to beauty pageants once more, Bliss heads out to a new contest, her mother's favorite, the same night as the big contest. Is there a chance of her making it? Come on, this is a movie folks!

Is this movie believable? No way. First off no league would put themselves in the position of being shut down due to a teenager not being old enough. And the chances of walking in off the street and being better than anyone else? Slim to none. But it doesn't matter. What matters is feeling a sense of hope for Bliss as she has that opportunity to move beyond a life she hates into one she loves, finding that one thing in life that makes her feel more than she has ever before.

The acting in the film is solid, especially by Ellen Page. Changing from the shy Bliss who enters contests at her mothers request to becoming the young woman who makes her own decisions is fleshed out in her performance. Page has done such a great job with various roles in films like JUNO, HARD CANDY and even X-MEN that I'm beginning to think she's one of the best actresses around these days.

The supporting cast also does a great job. Barrymore takes on a small part as one of the derby girls as does singer Eve and stuntwoman Zoe Bell. But the one who stood out for me was Kristen Wiig as Maggie Mayhem. Wiig is one of the series regulars on SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE these days and what I've seen of her there is far too over the top. But like Robin Williams when given the right director, she comes through with a great performance as a single mom skater who acts as surrogate mom to Bliss.

Barrymore's first outing as director shows that she can put together a well made film. It's entertaining, fun and delivers everything the previews said it would. As I said, this isn't Oscar material but it is a fun film. Predictable at times but its less about the end result and more about the path taken to get there that makes movies like these work or fail. In this case, the movie works. So take a couple turns around the track and give this one a look.

Buy Whip It (2009) Now

This film is amazing! It's got everything, an indie, fresh, real feel to it, a lot of great laughs and some very intense heartfelt moments. Drew is a lot more than a pretty face---it seems she's also a great judge of screenplays and a great director. The casting is absolutely perfect. Every line, every expression, every scene is pitch perfect. The acting is wow! If you can watch this without laughing yourself sore and tearing up (in a manly way, of course) then you're obviously suffering from the same degenerative brain disease as the reviewers who rate it below 4 stars. And what's amazing is there is nothing really gross or offensive in it. A few off color lines is all that gives it the 13+ rating. For gawd's sake, if you love great movies, rent this one and give Drew a chance to make another one.

Read Best Reviews of Whip It (2009) Here

Loved the movie even more than the book, Derby Girl, upon which the movie was based. Ellen Page softened the character of Bliss and I can't imagine anyone else doing a better job. The supporting cast was wonderful. The movie expanded the storyline perfectly while maintaining much of the dialogue straight from the book and best of all expanded the derby action. Kudos to Drew Barrymore in her directing debut and in her supporting role. D.B. obviously gravitates towards the girl power genre while having the knack of toning it down just enough to be enjoyable to general audiences. I truly hope the author or a screen writer comes up with a clever sequel because this was a ride that ended way too soon.

Want Whip It (2009) Discount?

This is a killer (and by that i mean awesome) movie for those of us with a tortured past (or present), built up anger and/or frustration and the desire to aspire to be more than what we are told to be. It will bore the (sorry to be stereotypical) cheerleader, popular girl type. If you have been to Austin, TX or seen it on TV or in the movies and you just don't get the place....this movie is NOT for you. It promotes individuality, striving to find and practice what you are good at, taking the good with the bad in all relationshhips and that women can be badass, stupid, immature, forgiving, selfish....and everything we allow men to be all the time. Thanks for reading my opinion.

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