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The Sparkle of “Whip It”

October 22, 2009

Like a piece of deep dish carrot cake, rich and moist, “Whip It” drips with an undeniably sweet appeal and the aroma of fresh teenage yearnings. Not as wholesome as the all-american apple pie, but not quite as edgy as dark chocolate cheesecake either. This is not couture stuff, but it sure is gourmet. There are enough whipped cream to go around for everyone.

The plot is pretty straightforward from the trailer – Bliss Cavendar(Ellen Page)  is a 17 year old girl living in Bodeen, Texas. She is by all means, a normal girl, living that typical and cruel high school life where kids like to make fun of the different ones and do stupid stuff just to prove that they can. Bliss works part-time as a waitress with her best friend, Pash (Alia Shawkat), at a local diner with a giant pink pig on the roof. In between serving massive one-pound burgers called squealers and milkshakes, they dream about escaping their mind-numbing small-town existence. Pash’s plan is through an ivy league education. Bliss is not quite sure on the how part, but she agrees on the goal – out of Bodeen and away from the endless beauty pageants that her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) keeps entering her in with enthusiasm and determination.

On a shopping trip to Austin, an opportunity befalls on Bliss. She sees roller derby girls dropping flyers at a store and immediately feels an inkling of affection for this other world of tough females, brazen athletes, and the freedom of its alter-ego characters, racing around a circular track to roaring applauses in a warehouse under the cover of darkness, a world of difference to the sunny Miss Bluebonnett Pageant that her mother is set on winning through her daughter.

Bliss sneaks to Austin to watch her first Derby game, and half way through she is hooked, line and sinker. This is the excitement and freedom that is missing in her angst-filled teenage life! So begins a series of secret bus trips to Austin where she somehow made it onto the Hurl Scouts team. Against the odds, Bliss thrives on the track with her natural speed and instincts, and quickly proved herself a force to be reckoned with. The veterans are skeptical, some furious at the shift of attention. On the other hand, juggling skates and pageant gowns is not easy, and Bliss’s double life starts to take a toll on her friendships and relationship with her mother. Then, there is a boy – who is predictably tall, cute, and the lead singer of a band. Seriously, directors, can we not at least get a bass player or someone that is less of a cliche teenage crush material? And girls, how much more does it take for you to realize that a boy who makes a living singing heartbreaking songs will, most likely, break your heart?

But all things aside, this is a film with heart. Even the supporting characters are fulfilling to watch. Alia Shawkat who plays Pash is a pure delight. She is spunky and funny in just the right notes and with a great laugh, makes a believable best friend for Page’s Bliss. I have a feeling we’ll be seeing her for years to come. Marcia Gay Harden is a veteran, and it shows. Barrymore is negligible as Smashley Simpson, probably only doing it at the demand of the studio, but proves herself a competent director with promise. Sure, there are some (lots) cliche choices that could’ve been done without, such as the big game build-up, the last minute switch from fulfilling one’s obligations to pursuing one’s passions, the race against the clock, and even the typical boy-girl “big talk” right before the big game. But with the right cast and a heartfelt script, Barrymore turns out a refreshing recipe of the typical teen drama-comedy.  

And then there is Page, Ellen Page. Ever since “Hard Candy”, what has not been said of this girl already? Intelligent, brave, an actor of natural instincts and pitch-perfect subleties, she is all of those things. She is also naturally lovable. There is this sparkle that she carries, in the way speech rolls off her tongue with clarity and conviction, in the evident swagger of her walk that shows her so completely comfortable in her own skin, and in the way she looks at you straight on, no pretense, clear and open, her eyes are luminous and she is a sight to behold, even in oversize tshirts, ragged cargo pants and a hockey bag.

Inner beauty. When people talk about that, I always think of Ellen Page.

There is one scene at the end of the movie, when Bliss is sitting on the pig on top of the restaurant, and the camera zooms in on her face. It’s a satisfying shot.

Like I said, this is no American Pie, and it’s no Breakfast Club either, but it’s sweet and delicious in a non-pretentious, down-to-earth, and irresistable kind of way, like a piece of homemade carrot cake. It is made with love. You can taste it. The sweetness never overpowers, and the whipped icing leaves you wanting more.


4 Comments leave one →
  1. October 23, 2009 2:20 AM

    Quote 1:
    Against the odds, Bliss thrives on the track with her natural speed and instincts, and quickly proved herself a force to be reckoned with.
    Quote 2:
    And then there is Page, Ellen Page. Ever since “Hard Candy”, what has not been said of this girl already?….
    Interesting, isn’t it?

    Btw, have you ever looked at page’s hands? She has those rare hands that have a well-used yet elegant look.

  2. Melanie permalink
    October 23, 2009 1:13 PM

    I was wondering why I want to see this movie so badly, although the trailer doesn’t promise anything exciting or new. Now I’m thinking that it’s probably Ellen Page. That doesn’t really convince my conscience though , but luckily your article does.
    Looking forward to seeing it this weekend (probably with a piece of chocolate cake ;))

    Grace: any cake is better than no cake :)

  3. October 23, 2009 10:34 PM

    Haven’t seen it yet, Grace, but it’s on my “want to” list.

    I did recommend it to my wife and she saw it on a night out with her best friend. She was surprised that she loved it. (Surprised because she and I totally disagree on films and if I recommended it then…)

  4. October 24, 2009 1:06 AM

    Having seen both “Hard Candy” and “Juno,” I find it interesting that Ellen Page has certain mannerisms common to both movies, and yet, is so completely different in them. You write about her carrying a sparkle, Grace, but I think it’s what you write a little later on that links her characters in those two films (and probably in “Whip It,” too): that she is “so completely comfortable in her own skin.” Her mannerisms, her speech pattern, all show how comfortable she is in whatever role she tackles–how she can play anyone, because she knows herself so well.

    Grace: Yes, that is what always struck me the most about her. And I suspect that is what makes her sparkle so naturally.

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