Here’s the deal. Whip It, the new Drew Barrymore/Ellen Page film, is tanking at the box office. We have to go see it. If we don’t, the money’s going to dry up for girl-power films.
Not that you won’t enjoy every minute. Whip It is the Real Girl movie of the year. Its motto: Be your own hero.
The plot: Bliss Cavendar (Page) is a 17 year old reluctant beauty pageant contestant, nudged along by her Good Girl mother (played by the terrific Marcia Gay Harden). Mom is a former beauty queen herself who sneaks smokes to project a Perfect Mom image to her daughter (and undergoes her own transformation in the film). When Bliss watches an all-female roller derby, she’s enthralled. She sneaks off to tryouts and busts into the world of Austin derby.
Bliss’ team, the Hurl Scouts, is Real Girl heaven: women who tell it like it is, don’t care what people think and take up space – literally, by jumping on top of each other. When Bliss apologizes before she speaks in true Good Girl fashion, the team has none of it. “Find that thing that pisses you off,” a teammate advises the timid Bliss, “and use it.” Okay, passion doesn’t have to be driven by anger, but it’s a crystal clear moment of a girl learning how to access power and drive.
I like how parent-positive this movie is. Bliss goes too far with her Mom and gets schooled by one of the Hurl Scouts for being selfish. And it’s Dad who skates away with the film, with his tearjerker line, “I can’t take our daughter missing a chance to be happy.”
Some parents might feel uncomfortable about the sheer brass of these women (with nicknames, for example, like “Jabba the Slut”). Personally, I wish Bliss didn’t have to throw her Good Girl self under the bus in favor of more aggressive behavior. She goes too far when she knocks a popular girl over a railing at school to show off her newfound confidence.
That said, there’s an infectious and heart lifting freedom in the way these women blow through a party, locker room or rink. You will cheer for Bliss when she is literally sprung from the prison of her beauty pageant life by this rollicking pack of women. I dare you to go see this movie and not wonder where you left your last pair of skates.
Bliss displays inspiring confidence with boys, modeling the kind of self-esteem you want your daughter to see on the big screen. An NPR reporter recently pointed out that the last scene between Bliss and her love interest “is so smart and so significant and so legitimately revolutionary given the sensibilities of 99 percent of the movies that depict teenage girls that that scene alone would make it a great gift for your daughter when she turns 13.”
There’s an email pinging around that wonders if “Whip It would have been better off if it was told in reverse: the story of a Roller Derby Girl who made herself over as a Beauty Queen, won the pageant and got the boyfriend in the end.” Great question, but let’s use the time we might have spent wondering and get our butts to the box office. Do it for the girl in your life. If we don’t vote with our wallets, we may lose for years to come.