I took my youngest daughter to see Whip It this past week. We live in the Austin area and have even been to some of the Texas Rollergirls flat track roller derby games. (Their games are held at the skating rink where my daughter has had her birthday parties for years and where we regularly go skating.) The movie involves the banked track league in Austin rather than the flat track one, but we’re aware of them as well. My daughter loves to skate and has enjoyed the games we’ve gone to see, so she was looking forward to the movie.
All in all, Whip It is a fun movie to watch. (The title refers to a particular roller derby move.) At its core, the movie is a coming of age film with the classic elements. Parents haunted by their own lost dreams. A daughter searching for her identity and disillusioned by the mill of beauty pageants that are the focus of her mother’s attempts to relive a period of her life through her daughters. The early scene in which Ellen Page’s character, Bliss Cavendar, mounts the beauty pageant platform with hair streaked bright blue is a priceless one.
Bliss happens upon a roller derby demonstration event flyer and, as much in a fit of teen rebellion as anything else, decides to attend. In the course of the night, she is invited to the tryouts (after lying about her age) and step by step proceeds to stumble into an athletic talent for which she develops a true passion. The heart of the film follows her development of that talent, almost Karate Kid style and the inevitable tension with her parents when they discover her activities. As the father of teens and young adults, I experienced many a wry moment as the central conflict was resolved over the course of the film.
There is a secondary romantic thread that, at least for me, didn’t add a great deal to the central story. I would have rather that time had been spent developing Bliss’ growing relationship with her roller derby team instead. With that said, if my daughter absorbed even a little of the message that charming and sweet are not necessarily the same as trustworthy when it comes to guys, then I would say it had some redeeming value.
I understand that they didn’t have the budget to actually film most of the movie here in Austin, so I wasn’t expecting much place recognition. However, they were able to get enough location shots to weave an Austin feel into the movie. Since I’ve lived here my entire adult life, I really appreciated that part of the film.
I won’t spoil it for those who haven’t seen the movie yet, but the final scene with Bliss’ father in his yard with his neighbor was an utterly priceless one. It cracked me up. It’s just one example of the way the parents’ hopes and dreams are worked into this movie as well.