Drew Barrymore’s lifelong acting career has given her some keen insights into the film industry, and it’s for this reason that viewers should have a little faith in her abilities. Her directorial debut, “Whip It,” is adorably entertaining and slyly comical. Every once in a while, you really want the ending of a movie to be predictable, and this one delivers the goods.
Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) grows tired of her crazy mother (a brilliant Marcia Gay Harden) and her insistence on Bliss partaking in the local beauty pageantry that takes place in their hometown of Bodeen, Texas. It may be the life for her younger sister Shania, but not for her. So, on a rebellious night out to Austin with her friend Pash (Alia Shawkat), Bliss discovers the Texas Roller Derby, where dirty and ruthless are the names of the game, and it’s there with the Hurl Scouts that she feels right at home.
What is most striking about this sweet, slight little comedy is the script’s down-to-earth, conversational style. Where Page’s previous hit, “Juno,” made viewers sometimes feel out of the loop with its frantic wordplay, “Whip It” has its major players speaking to their friends and mothers in a more everyday-sounding vernacular. Reserved yet honest, and random to boot, it’s an understated value that I think helps this feature make the grade.
Even the quirkiest of the film’s characters feel like people you might find at a Wal-Mart somewhere. Hurl Scouts Coach Razor (Andrew Wilson) wears his cutoff jean shorts every day but maintains a “serious” persona, and roller derby announcer “Hot Tub” Johnny Rocket (Jimmy Fallon) has a factor of ridiculousness that is so over the top it feels sickeningly real. And, despite the public persona of Mrs. Cavendar, she is, ultimately, your typical neighborhood mom: She is extra flirty with her husband and can be seen hiding her cigs from her impressionable daughters.
Deliciously adorable is Daniel Stern (perhaps best known for narrating the popular series “The Wonder Years”) as father of the Cavendar clan. His simple personality and glowing pride for his children are some of the cheeriest concepts of the film, and it makes you wish your dad was just as cool.
With great turns by Juliette Lewis, Kristen Wiig, Zoe Bell and Barrymore as roller derby veterans, this comedy is a ’round-the-track whirlwind of comedic genius. Besides, everyone loves to see people get kicked on their asses every now and then.
As a first film, Barrymore picked a safe bet. It may not be the million-dollar blockbuster one might hope for, but it’s certainly respectable and charming; there’s a little action, a little romance, some family drama and plenty of laughs to make the movie outing worthwhile.