Upon its 2009 release, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It, felt like a delightful, inspired and heartwarming journey of a young girl in the process of finding her own individual happiness. Much of this remains true in revisiting the film 11 years later, with some slight caveats that make the film a tad less enjoyable than originally perceived. The plot is still a coming-of-age tale that would make John Hughes proud. Caught in the small-town chokehold of her home in Bodeen, Texas, Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) finds herself endlessly competing in beauty pageants, fulfilling a lost dream detained by her own mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden). Upon discovering a roller derby league in nearby Austin, Bliss lies to her parents and joins, ascertaining an aspect of her life that for years had been set adrift – contentment.

It’s a classic tale of breaking out of one’s shell and testing the boundaries of new passions, and first-time director Barrymore handles material at once sensitive and hilarious with surprisingly relative ease. Upon new examination, there are certainly elements of the screenplay the film could do without, such as the unnecessary romantic subplot between Page and a musician played by Landon Pigg. It feels shoehorned into the overall mix of themes, as this is a story about community more than about a couple.

That’s where the film finds its strength, in its cast and their respective characters. We’ve got Page, Barrymore herself, Kristen Wiig, Juliette Lewis, Alia Shawkat, Eve, Ari Graynor and the multitalented stuntwoman/actress Zoë Bell, among many others, and the camaraderie of this entire group helps make Whip It as charming and fun as it ultimately is. It’s one of those films that you forgive for its flaws because it’s clear the performers are having an absolute blast during the production, a fact made even more evident by the bloopers and behind-thescenes footage that plays during the end credits.

The biggest problem? There’s not enough of it. This is a film that should’ve abandoned its romance, jettisoned minor scenes and focused exclusively on the community of roller derby, perhaps digging more into the alternative identities of the women who take part in this sport (Whip It suffers a bit from its lack of inclusion, painting roller derby as an almost exclusively straight and cis activity). I would’ve loved to have seen more Richard Linklater-esque scenes of simple hanging out and bonding, as the film is at its best when these actresses are together on screen, laughing and having a great time.

One can still argue that the film’s sharpest insight aside from the roller derby community is the one-on-one bond between Bliss and her mother. Harden is a major highlight of the film as a mother dealing with an inability to recuperate from an unfulfilled past, combined with the discovery of a rebellious daughter disapproving of her motherly methods. The tension yet equal chemistry between Page and Harden illustrates a powerful mother/daughter relationship that knows no bounds, and Barrymore paints this picture with emotionality, vehemence and, most significantly, realism.

Despite some newfound shortcomings, Whip It is still a wholesome, honest and authentic glimpse into the breaking away of a teenage girl from suffocation to what her own name implies: Bliss.

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