By John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service
The hard-edged world of women's roller derby provides
the setting for the coming-of-age tale "Whip It" (Fox Searchlight).
Rather than serving as a forum for feminist self-expression, as
first-time director Drew Barrymore seems to intend, the rough and
tumble of the showcased competition—with its skimpy outfits and
bruising smackdowns calculated to delight boorish male fans—comes
across as more exploitative than empowering.
Throwing herself into this ostensibly liberating underground
sport is restless small-town Texas high school student Bliss Cavendar
(Ellen Page). Since her strong-willed, socially ambitious mother
Brooke's (Marcia Gay Harden) fondest wish for Bliss is that she become
the queen of the local beauty pageant circuit, Bliss carefully conceals
her new enthusiasm both from Mom and from her amiable but henpecked
father Earl (Daniel Stern).
With the support of her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat), and
despite not having skated since she was a little girl, Bliss gains a
spot on an Austin-based team known as the Hurl Scouts, becoming the
protege of their captain, Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig). As her skills
improve and her star rises, Bliss—who now goes by the moniker Babe
Ruthless— discovers romance, falling for derby fan and local rock
singer Oliver (Landon Pigg) whom she meets at one of the Scouts'
Barrymore's genre-blending debut—partly a sports drama and a
romantic comedy as well as a chronicle of teen maturation—in which
she plays Smashley Simpson, another of Bliss' colorfully nicknamed
teammates, is buoyed by heartfelt performances from its principals.
But, though Shauna Cross' script, adapted from her own novel of
the same title, has Bliss grapple with the negative consequences of
premature freedom—and come to a better appreciation of her parents—it also, at least partially, glamorizes her irresponsible sexual
The film contains nongraphic nonmarital underage sexual
activity, brief partial nudity, underage drinking, occasional
irreverence, a few uses of profanity, some sexual humor and references,
about a dozen crude terms and much crass language. The USCCB Office for
Film & Broadcasting classification is L—limited adult audience,
films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The
Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13—parents
strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children
Mulderig is on the staff of the Office for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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