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‘Whip It’ soars on girl power

Fri., Oct. 2, 2009

Drew Barrymore has forged a persona as both an actress and producer with movies that exude a playful sense of girl power. So it only makes sense that “Whip It,” her first feature as a director, would share that same sort of vibe.

What is surprising, though, is Barrymore’s ability to find just the right tone all the time, which would be a difficult feat for any first-time filmmaker to achieve – even one who’s had the benefit of spending her entire life on movie sets.

“Whip It” is funny without trying too hard to be wacky, sweet without being overly sentimental.

And after a recent string of female-centric films (including “All About Steve” and “The Ugly Truth”) that wallow in the worst kinds of stereotypes, it is such a relief to see women depicted as strong, smart, cool individuals.

It’s also a joy to see Ellen Page play a character other than the impossibly clever smart-alecks she’s become known for in movies like “Juno” and “Hard Candy.”

Here, Page stars as Bliss Cavendar, a misfit growing up in the nowhere town of Bodeen, Texas, and working as a waitress at the local barbecue joint.

Bliss is reluctantly following in the footsteps of her beauty-queen mother (Marcia Gay Harden), but on a visit to the big city of Austin, she sees a flier for the local roller derby league and is immediately intrigued.

She joins the Hurl Scouts, whose shtick is that they dress up in Girl Scout uniforms with fishnets and heavy eyeliner to beat up on the competition. With tongue-in-cheek names like Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Bloody Holly (stuntwoman Zoe Bell) and Smashley Simpson (Barrymore herself), they’re perennial cellar-dwellers but they don’t care. They’re too busy having fun.

What’s endearing about these characters – inspired by the memoir by Shauna Cross, a Los Angeles Derby Dolls member who also wrote the script – is that these women are tough on the outside but decent to the core.

It all serves as a welcome reminder that when boys let you down, your girls will always be there to pick you back up.

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