If you like coming of age movies but hate problematic male love interests, you won’t be disappointed with Drew Barrymore’s directional debut.
Bliss is a rebellious Texas teen who throws in her small-town beauty pageant crown for the rowdy world of roller derby.
Whip It is such an underrated movie for more reasons than one. On the surface, the reasons would be an all female stand-out cast, a fantastic soundtrack, Jimmy Fallon and the fact that it is a perfect coming of age film. Whip It is so much more though.
There is an abundance of sport-driven films that reflect women in a positive light or focus on team bonding and sisterhood. In Hollywood, the only sport a woman can partake in is cheerleading and she has to be part of a bitchy clan. What’s refreshing about Whip It is how incredible these women are. They welcome Bliss with open arms, tell her to “be her own hero”, never judge and are badass throughout.
There are a ton of positive messages in this movie I can totally get behind. Throughout Bliss battles with her identity as her mother pushes outdated ideals of womanhood on her and her peers mock her. She’s alternative (“alternative to what?“) but director Drew Barrymore is careful enough to let her protagonist, and the audience, not put down one way of life to enjoy another. This shows young girls everywhere that there is more than one way to be a woman.
Together Barrymore and Shauna Cross (writer) present the perfect feminist coming of age movie which tells us winning isn’t everything, you don’t need a love interest in order to find yourself, sisterhood is everything and you should always use the thing that pisses you off.
WHAT DID OTHERS THINK?
Whip It has a lot to offer, but its most important contribution is a beautiful and powerful display of femininity. It’s an entirely female-driven movie, with Drew Barrymore directing, Shauna Cross writing, an amazing feminist soundtrack, and an incredible cast of actresses. The story itself is a little generic. It’s a “finding yourself” movie where Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) wants desperately to get out of her boring southern town, because no one there understands her, other than her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat). That’s a feeling and a town I know all-too-well, so the film instantly pulled me in. The story has been told before, but that doesn’t make it any less valuable, and quite frankly, every generation needs to hear it, especially young girls.
What is original about Whip It is the way in which Bliss finds herself. On her quest, she doesn’t just find something she’s good at; she finds sisterhood within a roller derby team who make her feel important and welcome. It’s a stark contrast to the beauty pageant life her mom wants for her, where girls are pitted against each other in a competition based around physical beauty. I love the juxtaposition between those two worlds, and I love that the film doesn’t ever say that one world is better than the other. It just points out that Bliss’s heart is not in a pageant; it’s at derby kicking ass and making a life for herself.
I’m such a sucker for the nostalgic small-town Americana that was the backdrop for Whip It. Bliss Cavender is a pageant-queen-in-the-making with a Southern belle mother. She wants nothing more than to get the hell out of back-end-of-nowhere Bodeen, Texas; while the other girls are giving their practiced responses to questions like “who would your dream dinner companion be?”, she is furiously trying to wash dye out of her hair and walks onstage with a vivid blue streak.
Bliss is different. Her classmates insult her by calling her “alternative”. She buys her boots from a shop that sells bongs. When she meets a group of roller derby girls, these mysterious, awesome creatures who don’t fit the traditional standards of beauty she’s been told her whole life to aspire to, she wants to be like them. Bliss is in utter awe, starstruck, but never in a million years could she imagine herself as one of them.
The Hurl Scouts are the underdogs, but they don’t care. Friendship, camaraderie, and finding a place where they belong are more important than winning any trophy. When they lose a match, they don’t pick apart what they’d done wrong. They build each other up to remember their successes. That is what makes them so awesome. These girls are loud and opinionated, covered in tattoos, and they don’t give a shit what anyone might think of them.
This story was all about the girls. The romantic subplot (because what coming-of-age movie would be complete without a romantic subplot) was a nice touch. This is not a romcom; Bliss does not welcome her lousy boyfriend in open arms; she tells him “I would have called”. She sticks up for herself, because she knows she deserves better. Bliss, aka Babe Ruthless, isn’t a pushover.
Whip It has an element of fun that I really enjoyed, with a few genuinely heartwarming moments. The whole parent-child dynamic was played out so well here; when Bliss’s dad told her mother he supported her decision, I cried. “I can take losing the money, I can not risk losing the chance for our kid to be happy”. By the time he handed Bliss her skates, I was bawling like a baby.
It’s so refreshing to see a film about women that doesn’t concentrate on their relationships with the men in their lives. Given Drew Barrymore’s characteristic weaving of a “girl power narrative in all her performances, there is a definite feminist undertone; this was all about girls doing what they want, not having to be constrained by what society deems “appropriate” or “ladylike”. Wouldn’t we all be much happier if we lived like this?
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