With Whip It!, Drew Barrymore's directorial debut, I got a chick flick I didn't hate. Truth be told, I really liked it. And I wasn't so sure I was going to either, because the source material didn't strike me as such a comedic vehicle. I had a peculiar feeling that the movie might try to be a little more heavy-handed, but Barrymore to her credit kept it light. Maybe even lighter than Shawna Cross's book, Derby Girl.
In the book, Bliss comes off as a teenaged girl who has a pretty great life with the only exception being the fact that she is being raised by a pageant mom. With the movie, the desolation of a small Texas town comes across much better. Bolene felt like a town that Texas forgot, though the road trips to Austin seemed quite short. Like mini safaris into civilization, both in the book and the movie.
When it comes time for the roller derby and the derby girls to appear, that's where my attention as a guy perks up. Cute girls on roller skates knocking the heck out of each other? The roller derby I saw on Saturday afternoon television as a young teen did not look that cool. In the book, it feels very small and very underground. For the movie, it's presented with a bit bigger feel--not stadium big, but it looked much shinier and better presented than what amounts to an amateur league of women getting together for a night at the rink.
The cast in the film is just great. I thought Drew Barrymore might try to upstage Emma Page in their scenes--don't ask me why--but Barrymore's role is minor and Emma Page does really well. Of course, Page basically just had to play it like it was a prequel to Juno, like a girl before she gets knocked up by her boyfriend and has her heart crushed. As for the rest of the cast, Kristen Wiig, Jamie Fallon, and Zoe Bell really are scenestealers. And that girl from "Arrested Development," what's her name, the one who played "Maybe." She was a very welcome addition as Bliss's best friend. In the book, however, she feels a little less like a second banana.
The book does a lot to focus on the relationship between Bliss and her mother, who does not approve of the idea of roller derby when she finally discovers her daughter's dirty little secret. For the movie, it centers on a different tension between Bliss and her derby rival, played by Juliette Lewis at her most bitchy since ... well, ever. There's the subplot of Bliss's crush on a cute guy who's in a band. He comes off much douchier in the book though, as the movie kind of glosses over just how smitten Bliss was with him and devastated when things take an unsavory turn.
Winner: The Movie. It has its flaws, but the rich cast of characters really comes out well on the screen in a way that I didn't get from the book. While the book does get a better handle on the mother-daughter dynamic, the movie captures the roller derby excitement so well that you barely notice. It's also a movie that is more likely to appeal to the boys when it's time for movie night and their girlfriend is choosing the flick. Just steer your lady towards this one when she starts eying Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants.