Pop-Culture | Posted by Nellie B on 10/4/2009

Whip It!

Whip It: Be Your Own Hero

"Whip It: Be Your Own Hero"

Jos at Feministing already has a great review of Whip It posted, and I don’t want to ruin the plot for those readers who have yet to see the movie.  Here’s
a review in brief: Go see it.  Now.

I went to the local premiere with my 11 year old sister’s Girl Scout troop.  It was the best Girl Scout field trip ever — I’m so glad that the troop saw such a pro-girl movie.  Whip It’s plot is based off the young adult novel Derby Girl by Shauna Cross, who also wrote the screenplay.  The book’s influence is clear: exposition, character development and the plot arc all play like a YA novel, not a
traditional movie. Whip It is unusual in that it pauses the action to take its time talking about feelings, relationships and real life. My fellow audience at the premiere reflected the demographic at which Whip It is squarely aimed: namely, teenagers and young women, with a lot of mothers and daughters in the mix.

Drew Barrymore, Ellen Page and Kristen Wiig in Whip It!

Drew Barrymore, Ellen Page and Kristen Wiig in Whip It!

And what a movie! It’s probably not going to win any awards for brilliant dialogue or stunning cinematography, but it does win the Young Feminist Award for Not Making Viewers Feel Like Crap.  How refreshing for young women to have a movie with realistic relationships and characters, not a faux-feminist movie (Jennifer’s Body, I’m looking at you) that panders to the male gaze. True, the dreaded f-word is never uttered, though it lurks behind every quip, high-five and punch thrown on the derby rink.  We look Ellen Page’s mousy-looking, fierce-acting character Bliss Cavendar in the eyes, not her body.  Bliss lives in a blue-collar, suburban Austin house that looks shockingly like a real home.  Bliss’ friendship with BFF Pash (the adorable, hilarious Alia Shawkat) resonated with me and my friends.  The best dynamic was between Bliss and her mother, played by the hysterical Marcia Gay Harden.  The tired movie trope of Rebellious Daughter Gets Caught moved beyond cliché in a moving scene that showed fully developed characters with a complicated yet devoted relationship.

Though Whip It at times seems like pure feminist fantasy, the best part of that escapism is the derby action.  It’s quite satisfying to see female aggression, competition and sportsmanship manifest on the screen in the crunch sound of bodies colliding with the floor — or each other.  The cinematography has plenty of close ups on butts, thighs, chests and clashing bodies, but the action never veers into exploitation.  Though Johnny Rocket, the announcer (a slimy Jimmy Fallon) alludes to men’s voyeuristic thrill in watching fishnet-clad “girls” brawl and skate around — “I don’t know whether to break it up or break out the video camera!” — the movie places the power with the women themselves.  In a scene with roller girls Eva Destruction and Rosa Sparks in a hot tub (sadly, the movie’s only allusion to roller derby’s significant LGBT presence), Eva informs a leering, intruding man that he can get lost, and he does.

the team

the team

So gather up your best gal pals and go en masse to see a movie about female friendship that’s best enjoyed in the company of others, even if it’s ultimately about individual empowerment.

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  • toongrrl @ at 1:03 pm, October 5th, 2009

    Dang!!! I wanna watch both “Jennifers Body” (pure camp, I expect) and “Whip It!” (pure adrenaline-”go girl” rush I felt as a kid watching “The Powerpuff Girls”.

  • Josh @ at 8:41 pm, October 5th, 2009

    Any chance you can contact me?

  • Chelsea! @ at 11:28 pm, October 5th, 2009

    I. FREAKING. LOVED. THAT. MOVIE.
    I am also in love with Landon Pigg now. Hahaha. He was too cute. But a douchebag. And it made me happy seeing her character be a strong, independent woman in the end! :D

    And, I didn’t think it was possible, but I love Drew Barrymore even MORE now than ever before. Hahahha.

  • Amy CT @ at 1:45 pm, October 9th, 2009

    I bet it doesn’t come to Britain… *Sulks*

  • Mara @ at 11:00 pm, October 13th, 2009

    Saw it with my mom and LOVED IT!!!

    Just after seeing it, I saw an article on Feministing (I think it was Feministing…) about some horribly misogynistic article on “expired” female celebrities, and Drew Barrymore was described in aforementioned article as being “too chubby.” I thought about seeing her character in Whip It! zooming around the roller derby track, her strong legs pushing her around the track, and thought, “If a woman like that is fat, then I wanna be fat, too!” because in this case, fat must mean “not stick-thin and actually capable of being bashed into during a roller derby match without getting *too many* broken bones!”

    Anyhow, great movie, great message, SO refreshing for a young feminist to see with her amazing mother!

  • Coming of Age, With The Help Of Cathartic Violence « Shades of Caruso @ at 4:20 am, April 16th, 2010

    [...] for bullshit from anyone. Many happy reviews have already pointed this out (at Feministing, fbomb, Equal Writes, and Yoruba Girl Dancing for a start), so I won’t go into it much, other than [...]

  • Heather Aurelia @ at 10:09 pm, September 11th, 2010

    That’s great! I just got that movie, now I can’t wait to watch it!!!

  • Whip It « Witchy Feminist @ at 3:43 pm, September 12th, 2010

    [...] September 12, 2010 by heatheraurelia13 I love this movie, I am watching it now. Amazing! I love it how the Roller Derby woman said, “Be Your Own [...]

  • A @ at 10:40 pm, September 12th, 2010

    That is a great movie and book. Bliss is so kickass, so feminist, and so realistic. Yay! :)

  • Top Five Fictional Female Athletes | fbomb @ at 11:00 am, February 25th, 2013

    [...] you ask me, Whip It is one of the most under-appreciated movies in recent history. Sure, it isn’t exactly [...]

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