Sunday, February 14, 2010

Review: Whip It

So-called "feel-good" films get a bad rap. Serious critics and cinephiles disregard them as trifles manufactured by studios to appeal to Middle America (whatever that means). "A film that makes people feel good cannot possibly be of any cinematic quality", they opine. Director Drew Barrymore's Whip It proves them wrong.
Ellen Page sinks her teeth deep into the lead role of Bliss Cavender, a teenager in tiny, podunk Bodeen, Texas, who dreams of escaping the suffocation of her backwards hometown and the endless series of beauty pageants her overbearing mother (Marcia Gay Harden) shoves her into. One day, she discovers a roller derby league in nearby Austin, and immediately she sees her ticket out of the sticks. Bliss quickly joins a team called the Hurl Scouts, but must participate in secret, knowing her parents would disapprove; this sets up an inevitable confrontation that everyone will see coming.
When Whip It first hit theaters, many people wondered, "can the actress Drew Barrymore direct a movie?". The answer is yes, which shouldn't be a surprise; the girl has spent most of her life on film sets. She succeeds on every level: mood, pacing, shot composition, mise-en-scene, and most especially acting. Again, this last item should not be unexpected. Naturally an actor would excel most at directing her fellow actors. Every member of the cast bangs on all cylinders and is each given their moment to shine. From the afore mentioned Page and Harden, to Daniel Stern as Bliss's Joe Sixpack father, to Alia Shawkat as Bliss's best friend, to the excellent Kristen Wiig as the Hurl Scouts' matriarchal captain.
Does Whip It provide any cinematic revelations or contribute greatly to the filmic language? Not really. It is simply a perfectly crafted, brilliantly acted, delicious little American fairy tale.

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