by Kerry Bennett
October 17, 2009
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The small town of Bodeen, Texas doesn’t have a lot to offer a misfit like Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page). But the teen thinks she has found the place where she belongs when she meets some girls from a roller derby league (played by Drew Barrymore, Kristen Wiig).
Whip It is rated PG-13: for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material.
Drew Barrymore’s time in front of the camera—beginning at age three—seems to be benefitting the actress in her first big screen directorial debut. In Whip It, she manages to keep the momentum rolling while incorporating several different story lines. And even with a large cast, she rounds out her characters and gives them more than one-dimensional personalities.
The main focus of her film is Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), an average teen from a middle class family who lives in the little town of Bodeen, Texas. Her mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden), is a former beauty queen who now delivers the U.S. mail. She has high hopes that her oldest daughter will succeed on the pageant circuit. Her younger sister, Shania (Eulala Scheel), is already making her mom proud by regularly bringing home the title in her age category.
Bliss’s achievements, on the other hand, are mediocre at best. Her job at a fast food joint (where all the waitresses wear aprons with pig faces on them) is equally uninspiring. Then while shoe shopping with her mother, Bliss comes across a flyer for a roller derby match. Lying to her parents about her plans, she persuades her girlfriend (Alia Shawkat) to drive her to Austin to take in the event.
From the moment she sees the group of tough, tattooed, skimpily clad female combatants racing and brawling their way around the track, she knows it is time to turn in the tiara for a pair of roller skates. Without informing her family of her decision, she deceives the coach about her age in order to make the team and fabricates all kinds of stories to delude her mom and dad while she goes to practices and competitions.
But pretending she is a grownup puts Bliss in some adult situations that involve drinking and an extended, exotically portrayed sexual encounter. Luckily Bliss’s teammates are looking out for her. The movie contains some moving moments of personal growth for the young skater when they come to her aid. The production also addresses other hard-hitting topics facing teens today, including their desire to pursue their own passions rather than fulfill their parents’ expectations.
Yet, despite the depiction of consequences for some of her actions, Bliss manages to maneuver around most of them as deftly as she jams her way through a pack of defensive blockers. For teens facing their own challenges, Bliss’s ability to Whip It past any long-term negative outcomes for her choices seems noticeably unrealistic.
Studio: 2009 Fox Searchlight. Visit the official movie site.
Women participate in rough sports play resulting in bruises, bloody noses and other minor injuries. A male character grabs his crotch in a rude gesture. Another male is hit in the groin. A couple, consisting of a young adult male and teenaged girl, engages in a prolonged scene of sexual activity in a swimming pool. Teens kiss. Sexual innuendo and crude dialogue, including the description of male anatomy, are contained in the script. A partially nude man is seen. Female characters wear skimpy and revealing outfits. Paraphernalia for illegal drug use is shown. A woman smokes secretly at home. Adults and teens are shown drinking on numerous occasions. A teen is arrested for drinking. Several characters lie to others. A crude sexual hand gesture, profanities, scatological slang and name-calling are used. A song title from the film includes a strong sexual expletive.
Bliss isn’t the only one who lives a lie in this story. How do her parents model that behavior in their own lives? Who do her falsehoods end up hurting?
In this movie, Brooke and Bliss’s goals for the girl’s future are obviously different. But are there times when parents’ maturity and experience can benefit a child? How can parents encourage their children without imposing their own desires?
While roller derby gives Bliss a chance to challenge herself and fit in with people she feels are more like her, what kind of future does this activity promise?
Encouraged by her uncle, a young girl pursues a goal to be a quarterback in the Pop Warner Football League in The Longshots. Bliss’s mother isn’t the only mom who has her teen’s life planned out: in Ice Princess, a mother’s academic goals for her daughter are threatened when the girl wants to take up figure skating. Drew Barrymore gives a powerful performance as a 15-year-old girl whose life is turned upside down when she becomes pregnant after Riding In Cars With Boys.
Of Special Note:
This movie is the directorial début for Drew Barrymore, who can be seen as a child in E.T The Extra-terrestrial. Her adult acting career includes movies like Ever After and Charlie’s Angles. Ellen Page caught the attention of the acting world in the title role of Juno.
Source: Parent Previews
Editor’s Note: Kerry Bennett is interested in media from both a journalist and parent perspective. Along with authoring articles for several family-oriented publications, she has written for Parent Previews for nearly 10 years. She serves as Vice President of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. She and her husband Garry have four sons.