I hadn’t heard of roller derby until March 2009, about six months before Whip It was released. Essentially, it consists of jammers and blockers roller skating around the track. Jammers try to pass a large group of blockers, and the more blockers they pass, the more points they score. They take on badass names like Gore-ticia Adams and Lord of the Rink. I watched an old college friend of mine participate; the atmosphere was boozy, raucous, and fun.
Whip It had that same vibe. It starts Ellen (now Elliott) Page as Bliss, a teenage girl from Bodeen, Texas (it’s as rural and dusty as it sounds). She’s forced by her mother to participate in beauty pageants she finds as degrading and outdated (I would, too, in her position). One day, while going shoe shopping with her Mom at a head shop (“those vases are great for tulips”), she finds a poster for tryouts for a roller derby team. Upon sneaking out to nearby Austin (a very different world from the 50s throwback Bodeen), she falls in love – with roller derby. Lying about her age, she gets onto the team and becomes very good, very quickly. Essentially, she finds her power through this sport (yes, it is a sport).
Spoiler alert: the movie subverts sports-movie conventions by having her team lose the championship at the end of the film (though Bliss does gain the respect of Iron Maven, an initially bitter rival). But, of course, the romantic subplot gets tossed on its tuchus. At one of the alcohol-fueled post-game parties, she meets Oliver, a guitarist in a rock band that plays the party, and they go through the motions of the romance (montage included). However, during the Dark Night of the Soul moment, she finds pictures online of Oliver canoodling with a groupie while the band is on tour, and she’s even wearing the Stryper T-shirt Bliss gave her! seriously, Oliver? You didn’t think you’d be found out online? Dude!
At the end, when Oliver tries to weasel his way out of his infidelity, it seems as if Bliss will cave, when she kisses him. Then she slaps him in the face and asks for her shirt back.
Her best friend, Pash, does become romantically involved with Birdman, the manager at the diner she and Bliss work at. But Pash doesn’t seem into it, and we get the sense it’ll be a summer fling anyway before she goes off to the prestigious Columbia University.
Whip It is a female empowerment movie for sure; we can hear Bliss roar as she finds her way around the track. It’s also a pro-single movie, and was Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut. Side note: Barrymore’s been married three times but has revealed being burned out on dating. Perhaps she’s a single at heart? Perhaps she should read Bella’s new book, Single at Heart, coming in December.
I know that last sentence sounded like an advertisement; that’s because it is. Yours truly is even quoted in it. :)