It’s a risky thing for an actor to take a turn behind the camera. Sometimes it works, as it did for Mel Gibson in “Braveheart,” or for Clint Eastwood in “Million Dollar Baby.” But other times… it can be bad. We’ve learned even the best of actors can bomb while directing, as George Clooney with “Leatherheads” or as Danny DeVito did with “Duplex.”
And now, Drew Barrymore (“He’s Just not that Into You”) is taking her chances. Luckily for us, however, “Whip It” proves directing is a job Barrymore can handle.
Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page, “Smart People”) is an eccentric teen growing up in the tiny town of Bodeen, Texas. She’s witty, a bit goofy and the total opposite of her beauty queen mother, who can’t let go of her teenage pageant years. Craving to escape her tedious waitressing job and the world of beauty pageants, Cavendar joins a roller derby team with teammates who epitomize the hardcore chick. However, with the discovery of a new world comes a clash with the old, and soon she finds the two can no longer coincide.
The movie took its toll in its opening weekend, as it was beat out by “Zombieland” and took sixth in the box office. Barrymore’s own reputation as the poster child for girl power was also attacked by critics who assumed “Whip It!” is for girls only. Furthermore, critics doubted the movie because of its tagline, “Be your own hero,” assuming it to be too banal and overdone.
This may be true; Barrymore has always lived up to the “follow your dreams and be yourself” mantras. And in Hollywood these days, it is hard to find a movie that doesn’t, in one way or another, convey the same message. But if you remove the often overdone clich?s that “Whip It!” encompasses, there is a quirky charm that is rarely found onscreen. Page proves yet again she’s perfect as the teenage misfit who marches to her own drum, while constantly entertaining the audience with witty jokes and sarcasm.
The wit is individual and keenly remarkable compared to its competitors like “Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist” and “(500) Days of Summer.” Cavendar embraces her offbeat style and love for roller derby, and whenever she faces the cruelties of high school and competition, she finds a clever way of making herself, the underdog, victorious.
It is certain, however, that the most enthralling piece of the film is the amusing cast. Marcia Gay Harden and “SNL”‘s Kristen Wiig bring a compelling and downright hilarious edge to the film that ordinary giddy, inspirational comedies rarely possess. Even as each character deals with personal struggles and defeat, they do so with a twist of humor and humility.
Credit should also be given to screenwriter Shauna Cross, who also wrote the original novel and enlivened the story with witty comments that are a guaranteed riot. Barrymore hit the target with a genius screenwriter and a stellar yet original cast.
Undoubtedly Barrymore is on a winning streak. She’s had two Emmy award nominations in her career, and now, as the director and producer of a blockbuster film, Barrymore has surely achieved success. We have witnessed a woman who, like Cavendar, has been the underdog and the misfit yet all the while has proved the sky is positively the limit.
A simple yet euphoric film, “Whip It!” is a continuous crowd-pleaser and an overall success. Hopefully the next actor attempting to add “director” to his or her r?sum? can climb as high as Barrymore.
4 stars out of 5.