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Whip It (2009)


A beauty pageant contestant to roller derby star. What a transformation.

Stuck in Bodeen, a small Texas town, Bliss Cavendar wants to escape her boring life of beauty pageants and waitressing. When out on a shopping trip with her mum she sees a flyer for the roller derby finals and after watching the sport she goes to open try-outs where it’s noted that she has some talent.

Finding an actress who could convincingly portray a beauty pageant contestant, but not look out of place elbowing opposition skaters in the face, was going to either make or break the film, but the casting of Ellen Page as Bliss covers all these points and more. Page brings her indie leading lady qualities to Bliss meaning her beauty queen side is portrayed with a subtle class rather than the plastic bimbo qualities that are commonly thought of when thinking of pageant entrants. Mixing this with Page’s everywoman persona makes her transformation between beauty queen and roller derby rebel relatable and thoroughly engaging.

Drew Barrymore has used what she’s learnt from other directors for her directorial debut to give the derby scenes an exciting and energetic edge, similar to the fight scenes in the action packed Charlie’s Angels with dynamic close-ups and quick panning shots. Barrymore also plays with colour to differentiate between both sides of Bliss’ life; her home and pageant life has a muted pastel look that gives a lack of substance to this part of her when comparing it to the bold and vibrant look of her derby life which draws the audience in.

The similarities to Charlie’s Angels don’t stop at the visuals as strong female characters run the show. Leading the Hurl Scouts is Maggie Mayhem, played by Kristen Wiig, who acts as a mother figure to Bliss in the vibrant action packed world. Of all the characters she’s the one that appears to have her life together, and that’s why she’s such a draw for Bliss and the audience. Even the supporting characters enhance the view of female strength and dominance with Drew Barrymore, Zöe Bell and Eve as Bliss’ team mates showing a gritty willpower to inspire and drive people around them that lends itself to the type of sports hero status usually only given to male sports stars in films.

THE VERDICT

By combining a coming of age drama with an all-action sports film, Drew Barrymore has not only brought a not too well known sport to the masses but has created a dynamic and enticing film that hopefully won’t be her only directorial feature.

What do you think of Barrymore debut? How does this compare to your favourite sports films? Let us know in the comments below.

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