Whip It! is a hybrid of two genres which one might not normally associate
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
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!
Both IMDb voters (7.7) and movie critics (83% positive reviews) loved this
that love did not translate into box office success. It finished dead last among the four
new theatrical films released in the first week of October, 2009. That week's
competitive situation was unfortunate for this movie. If Whip It! had opened
against one drama, for example, it might have done very well, but it opened
against three other comedies, one of which was another, stronger coming-of-age dramedy (Zombieland), and that was all she wrote.
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.
Ellen Page didn't get naked, but she
did do an underwater scene in her underwear.
Arturo Domingo is a difficult, uncompromising filmmaker with a deep love for
art and a total mastery of the technical possibilities of film. Unlike most such
men, he doesn't make art films, but hard-core pornography. He is the "Stanley
Kubrick of porn," and he takes his work just as seriously as Kubrick took his.
In fact, he takes it far too seriously, as evidenced by comments like this: "Of
course my films include fucking, sucking, Cleveland Steamers, bukake and other
sexual activity - but only if it is justified by the plot."
He's in Portland to accept a lifetime achievement award which is being
presented to him as part of a film festival being held in his honor. Also in
Portland are his former muses, the ex-wife who abandoned him, and the estranged
leading man whose collaboration inspired him to the great masterpieces of the
past which he can no longer seem to duplicate.
The present-day action also includes plenty of scenes at the Portland film
festival, and that festival includes a documentary about Arturo as well as
excerpts from his greatest triumphs, so the documentary provides the back-story
painlessly and naturally, while the excerpts provide various opportunities for
satire and cheap gags.
Will Arturo make peace with his demons and recharge his stalled career with
his unfilmed masterpiece, "Gang Bangs of New York"? Who cares? The plot and
character development, while not non-existent and actually fairly interesting,
are just the threads used to string together the gags. And, by golly, those gags
are actually pretty funny! I laughed out loud a few times, particularly at some
of Arturo's pretensions, and the short excerpts from "Five Easy Nieces," "Full
Metal Jackoff," and "Dyke Club," which manage to spoof the porn industry as well
as the films which inspired their titles.
The Auteur is rated 7.2 at IMDb - as high or higher than several of Oscar's
"Best Picture" winners of the past! While I'm surprised that this obscure and
raunchy little Tribeca film gets that much love from the voting public, I have
to admit that I enjoyed it as well! Hats off to an indie film which accomplishes
quite a bit without much money and without drawing any attention to its tiny
budget. The script actually demonstrates a lot of knowledge about all sorts of
films, and shows a lot of love for for those who make films - porn films,
great films, indies, art films - even while letting us enjoy a few laughs at
Indie Wire's amusing interview with the writer/director
There is, as you can imagine, a lot of nudity from porn stars and obscure
actresses. I took the best excerpts and
zipped them together here. The clips also demonstrate the film's sense of
humor. (There's a lot more humor and a little more nudity.)