Caffeinated Clint : Whipped!

Making a movie these days is tougher than the elastic that holds a pair of cotton underwear together. It can take years to find financing (and it’s a sure-fucking-thing you’ll lose some of that finance before you roll), even longer to get the cast you want, it’s always a back-and-forward phone wrestle with the producers, and even after you’ve shot something, there’s still no guarantee people are ever going to see it. Also, chances are the film you ultimately shoot isn’t the one you intended to. The tone may be a little different, performances may be a little off, scenes you begged an editor/producer/studio-exec to leave in the movie and excised out… or any other number of problems could’ve occurred in the production or post-production phase that saw your ‘baby’ catch a dire bout of cinematic croop. But those things usually happen to filmmakers who are megaphone Virgins – those without a pot to piss in. Drew Barrymore, on the other hand, has more sway, coin, and contacts than she’s had female lovers (that’s saying something!) so if anyone can make a half-decent picture, even with newly-learnt directing skills, it’d be Gertie. And for the most part, that’s right…. Barrymore does a fine job with her first movie. But that’s not to say she couldn’t have done with one of these

“Whip It”- incongruously enough; since they’re words usually associated with cooking sweet stuff – is a bit like a chocolate mousse; It’s light, fluffy, tasty, but not so satisfying that you won’t be looking for something a little more fulfilling an hour or so later.

Sort-of a “Center Stage” by way of “The Mighty Ducks” – only with ‘Juno’ wearing the knee pads, not Joshua Jackson – it’s the maiden Captain voyage for the screen vet and tabloid darling. And though the score on the board at the end of the last quarter isn’t exactly the one Barrymore was likely hoping for, it’s still a good enough tally to warrant a second bout with the megaphone in the near future…. So long as she invests in a GPS first.

Former wild-child Barrymore has been around long enough to know her way around a movie set – and has understandably picked up a few things along the way about producing (which she’s been doing for a few years now – she helped captain the “Charlie’s Angels” flicks), and, as we’ll now discover, directing. And like her previous producing and writing efforts, Barrymore’s stab at directing isn’t a wasted experiment; in fact, it’s quite good. Only thing is, the multi-tasker is a bit like a kid in a candy store when it comes to filmmaking – picking a little bit of everything for her mixed bag, when she might’ve been otherwise better off sticking with one or two selections.

Barrymore has made a sports-comedy-drama-coming-of-age-romance that plays like five movies in one. Rather than take a chance and try something new, or be brave and tackle a large rack of meat, the tyro filmmaker seems to have taken choice moments from some of the films she’s been in (be it “The Wedding Singer”, “Riding in Cars with Boys”, “Boys on the Side”, “Fever Pitch”, even “Irreconcilable Differences”), spliced them together, and hoped that the audience finds at least a few of the moments commendable. And they will – maybe.

Based on the Shauna Cross novel ”Derby Gir”l, ”Whip It” tells the story of Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page, “Juno”), a classic-rock loving misfit stuck in the tiny town of Bodeen, Texas.

Her pageant-addicted mother (the always-solid Marcia Gay Harden) expects her to compete for the coveted Miss Blue Bonnet crown, but Bliss would rather feast on roaches than be subjected to such rhinestone tyranny.

Bliss’ escape? Take up Roller Derby.

When she discovers a league in nearby Austin, Bliss embarks on an epic journey full of hilarious tattooed girls (team-members are played by Barrymore, acclaimed stunt-woman Zoe Bell, Kristen Wiig, etc), delicious boys in bands, and a few not-so-awesome realities even the most bad-assed derby chick has to learn.

The truth of the matter is there is some good stuff here – Ellen Page is magnificent (as she always is!) as the uneasy small fry; the skate sequences look amazing (as do those doing the skating); the soundtrack is killer (Barrymore knows her music!); and there’s some really lovely mother-daughter moments between Page and Marcia Gay Harden.

Aside from the unpersuasive mish-mash of genres, the film needed to also offer a lot more background and detail to those that surround Bliss.

Some of the performances, especially by comedienne Kristen Wiig (TVs “Saturday Night Live”) as the ‘mother figure’ of the Derby group, not to mention Daniel ‘Where’s he been?’ Stern (“City Slickers”) as Bliss’s father, are sublime, so it’s a pity we don’t get to know more about them.

Also wounding to the film is a romantic subplot that feels tacked on and dreadfully out-of-place. Quite frankly, the film would’ve worked as good, if not better, had it had been excised from the script. At the very least, Barrymore could’ve found a more intriguing male lead than the noticeably untalented Landon Pigg – it’s a mystery why he was even cast!

Barrymore also doesn’t state what time period the film is set in. Bliss wears a Stryker T-Shirt, everyone plays 80s music, the soundtrack is 80s, several people have Reagan-era mullets… but yet the clothes, the backdrop, and the lingo suggest it’s set today!? Um… surely the producers could’ve shelled out for a calendar that could’ve hung eye-view in a scene?

I’m not going to give “Whip It” a beating because, honestly, it doesn’t deserve it – in fact, it’s quite an admirable effort for a first-time filmmaker. It, much like teenage Drew, just needed a good shake-up and point in the right direction before it did time with an audience.

Still, nice job Drew!. You’ve proved, yet again, you are capable of doing much more than using Tom Skerritt as a MX motocross pogo stick! (But that’s fun to watch too).