Whip It! is a hybrid of two genres which one might not normally
The first type of genre film summoned here is the standard sports
underdog tale. The perennial losers pick up some new blood and some new
motivation and eventually challenge the champions in The Big Game, after
taking some hard hits along the way.
The second is the official English provincial film. It seems like there
are only two types of English films these days. Type one is a gritty and
violent urban crime drama with a darkly comic overlay. Type two, the
template for this film, is a dramedy about eccentric provincials who
aspire to do something in stark contrast to our stereotyped expectations.
The steelworker's son wants to study hairdressing. The kindly old grannies
want to be drug lords. The fat factory worker wants to be a stripper. A
boy in a small industrial town wants to study ballet. The message of these
films is acceptance, and that pill is made easy to swallow by laughs and
sentiment. Whip It! is exactly that kind of film, except that it takes
place in a tiny town in Texas rather than in the U.K. Bliss's
strong-willed mom wants her to earn her college education by competing in
beauty pageants. Bliss, on the other hand, is not really into the big
hairdos and insincere speeches required by the pageant circuit. She's more
like the alternative rock chicks who stand around making ironic comments
about everything and who are in turn ridiculed by the cool kids. To be
honest, she's not really very enthusiastic about anything at all until she
discovers a roller derby league in nearby Austin, which seems to summon
her as powerfully as the sirens did to Ulysses. She lies about her age to
get a tryout and eventually becomes one of the league's stars. Unlike the
muscular but slow bruisers who dominate the sport, she is small and fast
and therefore ideally suited to the "jammer" role, which requires her to
skate past other competitors before they can prevent it.
The screenwriter of Whip It! actually did a pretty damned good job at
blending those two genres. Since Bliss is only 17, and her bitter rival
discovers that, she will need her parents' permission to keep skating.
Therefore the two plots synch very nicely. The team will require their new
star to gain the acceptance of her parents before they can count on her
for the big game!
Or it's possible that the film's box office failure can be attributed
to the lack of a distinct audience. The people who would like an American
version of Billy Elliott may not be the same people who would like to see
bone-crunching roller derby action.
The film deserved a wider audience. Whip It! represents Drew
Barrymore's debut as a theatrical director, and the film resembles its
director in many respects. It's physical, middle-brow, highly accessible,
down-to-earth, enthusiastic, unpredictable, casual, and wears its heart on
its sleeve. And like Drew, it's almost always fun to watch.