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Featured DVD Review: Whip It

February 4th, 2010

Whip It - Buy from Amazon: DVD or Blu-ray

Drew Barrymore comes from a family of Hollywood royalty. In fact, her Grandfather, John Barrymore, along with his brother Lionel Barrymore, were famous actors before Hollywood was even the center of American filmmaking. Drew had her first movie role in Altered States in 1980 and after E.T. in 1982 she was arguably the most well-known child actor in the world. After nearly 30 years of acting, she moved behind the camera for her directorial debut with Whip It. Transitioning from acting to directing is not always an easy move, so how well did she do in her new career?

Ellen Page stars as Bliss Cavendar, a suburban high school student who is desperate to get out of her little town and get to the big city. (In this case, the big city is Austin, Texas.) Her mother, Marcia Gay Harden, is big into pageants and want her and her younger sister, Eulala Scheel, to follow in her footsteps. With the support of her friend, Alia Shawkat, Bliss decides to rebel and join the Texas Roller Derby league, specifically the Hurl Scouts led by Maggie Mayhem, and including Bloody Holly, Rosa Sparks, and Smashley Simpson, coached by a man called Razor. Sadly for Bliss, a.k.a. Babe Ruthless, the Hurl Scouts are the worst team in the league. They are so bad that they've never won a game, much to Razor's horror. But maybe with an infusion of Bliss's enthusiasm for the sport, the team will be able to challenge Iron Maven and the Holly Rollers.

Who cares? This is not really a sports movie, but a coming of age movie about Bliss and her desire to find both her passion and a way of getting her parents to accept her and let her lead her own life.

So how is Drew Barrymore's directorial debut? I'm of two minds on this one. There's an overwhelming sense of déjà vu here. The coming of age story, the sports story, the underdog story, etc. None of these are particularly new ideas in the movie world. That said, there is a certain charm and a definite energy to be found here. The familiarity found within is forgiven because the execution is so strong. There are a few issues I had with the movie, though. First, there were a few scenes in the movie that felt like clumsy exposition, but instead of explaining plot points, they were explaining how Roller Derby works. That's the problem with choosing a sport for which most people in the audience won't know the rules. (Strangely, I knew the rules of Roller Derby before watching the movie. I don't know how I know, but I know.) Second, the romance in the movie is totally forgettable. Literally. I watched the movie yesterday and had completely forgotten about it when I sat down to write this review. I was also reminded when I looked up the cast list. Finally, Juliette Lewis's performance as the villainous Iron Maven is a little cartoonish for me. I've seen her do the same thing in a couple of other roles (a guest spot on My Name is Earl, for instance).

Two notes on the cast... I was amazed at the resemblance between Marcia Gay Harden and Eulala Scheel, who play mother and daughter in the movie. I thought they really nailed that casting. However, they are mother and daughter in real life, so that's not really a triumph by the casting department. Secondly, I'm really liking Zoe Bell's transition into acting from being a stuntwoman. Obviously this role needs a lot of training from her previous career, but I think she'll be acting more and more going forward.

I only have the DVD to review. In fact, I have a DVD-R screener not the final retail product. However, while there is the occasional bug in the corner of the screen, it is otherwise the same as the DVD. The other extras on the DVD are some deleted scenes. The Blu-ray has a tiny number of exclusives, including an alternate opening and a short interview with Shauna Cross, who wrote the novel and the screenplay. It also comes with a digital copy of the movie and only costs $6 more. Even if you don't use the Digital Copy of the movie, this is a fair price to pay. If you do like Digital Copies, then it is an excellent price for High Definition.

The Verdict

Whip It might have a familiar feel to it, but there's also an obvious enthusiasm that lifts the final product well above the sum of its parts. Unfortunately, for whatever reason, it never found an audience during its short theatrical release and the home market release suffers because of that. That said, both the DVD and the Blu-ray are worth picking up with the latter appearing to be the better deal.

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