Drew Barrymore can be considered quite the feminist when it comes to stepping behind the camera. She's got producer creds for her alpha-female Charlie's Angels, and now adds the directing feather in her cap as she helms Whip It, a sports film with a strong female flavour, based upon the novel by Shauna Cross about a group of gladiatorial styled athletes donning roller skates, outlandish outfits, makeup and scary name in an effort to showcase girl power.
Ellen Page continues in her stereotypical role as the misfit teenager Bliss Cavendar, whose mom Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) forces it upon her to enter beauty pageant after beauty pageant, after all, what's a small town girl gonna do if not to emulate her mother in her success? But of course being stuck in the small town of Bodeen, Texas doesn't mean that one cannot have other dreams of success, and while wondering what her calling is, Bliss discovers the beauty of a sport known as the Roller Derby league, where contestants seem to be larger than life in a rink where they outwit and outpace each other's teams to score points.
Like any growing teenage story, one would expect the narrative to be filled with the usual plots of the pangs of first love, and doing something major behind the backs of one's parents. However, Ellen Page delivers once again as the street-smart teenager who knows the right buttons to push to get things down. Having done most of her own skating stunts also adds a sense of realism to her character's involvement in the sport as she learns the ropes from her colleagues and foes who don't give a chance, and what more when they boast names like Smashley Simpson, Rosa Sparks, Iron Maven, Bloody Holly and Eve of Destruction?
Comedy is steeped in the film, though I prefer its presentation of its major theme here. It is always easy to judge others based on what we see on the outside, and it is often the eye that presets our feelings and verdict on a particular person. We are always quick to judge on what we see, rather than to make an effort to understand what goes on beneath. For all the gung-ho-ness of her sporting peers, the journey Bliss takes allows us to go behind the scenes, and realize that sport is sport, and beneath the steely demeanour still lies ordinary folks who are still challenged by what is being posed through everyday life, that as a team and a sport, they provide an avenue of get together, camaraderie, and stress relief. It is precisely this subtleness away from the obvious sport glamour and big talk that I appreciate in the film a lot more.
Though this is Barrymore's first feature film attempt at directing, you feel that this was instead directed by an old hand, and I guess given her many years in the industry, her experience counts in knowing what works. Having a minor role in the film herself – which I think she'll find it difficult not to have anything to do in front of the camera given its fine casting and physicality of the sport – she does go to show that she's becoming quite the all rounder in the industry, having her hand in many pies already, and like the character of Bliss, is probably just about to find her own calling and talent. I hope this is not a one-off film project, so let's see if Barrymore has what it takes to go behind the camera like what Clint Eastwood had managed to do, successfully.