Drew Barrymore’s time in front of the camera—beginning at age three—seems to be benefitting the actress in her first big screen directorial debut. In Whip It, she manages to keep the momentum rolling while incorporating several different story lines. And even with a large cast, she rounds out her characters and gives them more than one-dimensional personalities.
The main focus of her film is Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), an average teen from a middle class family who lives in the little town of Bodeen, Texas. Her mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden), is a former beauty queen who now delivers the U.S. mail. She has high hopes that her oldest daughter will succeed on the pageant circuit. Her younger sister, Shania (Eulala Scheel), is already making her mom proud by regularly bringing home the title in her age category.
Bliss’s achievements, on the other hand, are mediocre at best. Her job at a fast food joint (where all the waitresses wear aprons with pig faces on them) is equally uninspiring. Then while shoe shopping with her mother, Bliss comes across a flyer for a roller derby match. Lying to her parents about her plans, she persuades her girlfriend (Alia Shawkat) to drive her to Austin to take in the event.
From the moment she sees the group of tough, tattooed, skimpily clad female combatants racing and brawling their way around the track, she knows it is time to turn in the tiara for a pair of roller skates. Without informing her family of her decision, she deceives the coach about her age in order to make the team and fabricates all kinds of stories to delude her mom and dad while she goes to practices and competitions.
But pretending she is a grownup puts Bliss in some adult situations that involve drinking and an extended, exotically portrayed sexual encounter. Luckily Bliss’s teammates are looking out for her. The movie contains some moving moments of personal growth for the young skater when they come to her aid. The production also addresses other hard-hitting topics facing teens today, including their desire to pursue their own passions rather than fulfill their parents’ expectations.
Yet, despite the depiction of consequences for some of her actions, Bliss manages to maneuver around most of them as deftly as she jams her way through a pack of defensive blockers. For teens facing their own challenges, Bliss’s ability to Whip It past any long-term negative outcomes for her choices seems noticeably unrealistic.