I was disappointed by Whip It. Perhaps I had unreasonably high expectations because the film got so much hype in Bust magazine, but I just had this overall sense of "this could have been better" when it was finally over. Maybe I was angry that it wasn't a film about rugby?
My main problem with the movie was that it included a love story. Why was this necessary? I realize all the great sports films contain love stories on the side, and I was glad to see that the relationship was truly a side element to the larger theme of developing oneself through team sports. But I just felt like the Oliver thing was a distraction from some of the other really juicy plot elements. Were the conflicts with the mother character, Blue Bonnet pageants and the former best friend not enough? Was the drive to escape the small town not enough? I didn't need Oliver.
I also absolutely hated everything to do with Drew Berrymore in that movie. Her character made no sense. Name me a stoner who has a penchant for violence and unchecked rage! Why wasn't her character just a stoner or just an aggressive bruiser? In rugby, we have both types of person. But I can't think of a combo. Not to mention, Drew Berrymore couldn't act her way out of a pair of rollerskates. If her character threatened to beat up Bliss' mother one more time, I was going to hip check her into oncoming traffic.
I also was upset that many of the roller derby teams had male coaches. Based on my experience obsessively following the Steel City Derby Demons a few years ago and my knowledge gained watching the series Rollergirls, about the actual Austin roller derby circuit, I know that many teams are actually self-coached or coached by former female derby athletes. While it was great to see a male coach of a female team NOT in a romantic relationship with his players, I would have loved to see a female controlling the strategic reins of the team. Women need to see role models in coaching positions--the movie was based on a fictitious novel, so why not just make the coach character a woman?
Finally, I was disappointed with the characters' response to the male coach. When Bliss is first learning to skate, her coach takes her aside and tells her to basically get tougher; this is a contact sport. She becomes enormously upset and Maggie Mayhem has to intervene and soften the blow, tell her not to take it personally. Scenes like this are, I think, part of the reason women do tend to take constructive criticism personally. He was not being mean and he was not getting personal--this was not in-your-face, angry coaching. He was offering Bliss a real bit of information that was going to improve her game. I wish the writer or director would have just let Bliss absorb this message, learn from it, and then go on to improve her aggressive athleticism.
Many of these issues were handled fantastically in the series Rollergirls. The show featured women who were tremendous athletes, bruisers, stoners, just plain bitchy, super competitive, had the sport change their lives and alter their romantic relationships, etc. There were tattoos and disappointed mothers and lives adjusted to not only accommodate roller derby, but to revolve around that activity as the central focus. That series, I felt, did women's team sports everywhere a great justice. I wish it had gotten more attention. Stick it on your Netflix, queue. You'll be happy you did!
Anyway, there were some things about Whip It that made me really happy. For starters, I liked that the mean, dominant team won in the end. They were a competitive bunch of winners and it would have been a way crappier movie if the Hurl Scouts won the big tournament. I like when women are shown in roles that are ruthless and super competitive, because women are capable of being both.
I also liked that the villain character (even though I hate Juliette Lewis and will always picture her as mentally disabled a la The Other Sister) wasn't evil, just sort of bitchy and really wanted to win. I didn't understand why Bliss called her out for "outing" Bliss's real age--the film showed scenes of her telling her own team her age and Posh's parents are the ones who told Bliss's parents. What was that about, Bliss? I like that Carla Tate, I mean Iron Maven, pretty much just said she wanted to eff with Bliss's head and then just beat her where it mattered--on the track.
In the end, the film made headway in that it showed the transformative power of team sports, specifically full-contact team sports, for women. I just had an overall sense that it could have been better, perhaps with a different director behind the camera.