Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Director Drew Barrymore

I sat next to my buddy, the fabulous New York City-based film critic Joanna Langfield, at a screening of this movie in Manhattan.  Joanna and I were entertained.  We laughed.  We enjoyed it.  I wish this coming-of-age female bonding comedy had done better than it did at the box office. Funny, sweet, kooky, charming -- those are qualities of Whip It, the 2009 movie directed by actress Drew Barrymore.  She's now seen co-hosting "The Essentials" Saturdays at 8p ET with Robert Osborne on cable's Turner Classic Movies.

In Whip It, Drew played a roller derby queen whose rink name is "Smashley Simpson."

Drew Barrymore's bigger role was behind the camera as the film's director.
The star of Whip It was Ellen Page in one of her good post-Juno roles that proved she could do more than play a brainy, wisecracking 16-year old in a crisis.  Bliss, her character's name, comes from a working class family in Texas.  Her mother, played delightfully by Maria Gay Harden, is a postal employee.  In her past, mother was a pageant queen.  She wants Bliss to be a pageant queen.  Mom's a handful.

Bliss is still trying to figure out the direction of her life, like what college to attend.  She is not at all comfortable in girly pageant dresses competing for a crown.
She feels more at ease in sports attire competing with a team in a roller derby match.
Bliss meets and learns from popular roller derby queens.  There's a very funny Kristen Wiig as Maggie Mayhem, Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven and rap singer Eve as Rosa Sparks.  While going around in a circle real fast on roller skates, Bliss to come to her own identity.  The derby sequences are good.  We get to know each female's personality.  In some male-dominated sports comedies, the guys can often just deliver one-liners or make a macho statement.  We don't get into their real off-the-court personalities.  That's different in Drew's movie.  She had nothing to be ashamed of with this directorial debut.  The female bonding is lots of fun.  What I loved the most about Whip It were the relationships between parents and child.  Bliss loves her parents and they love her.  But you need to break away from your parents, in some fashion, and find your own identity.  They forget that they were once young with their own dreams and hopes that they wanted to make come true.  They become parents and, when you're still in diapers, they begin charting out the rest of your life.

Starting when I was a high school freshman, my mother would say "I want you to have power.  I see you becoming a Hollywood screenwriter.  That's it.  Screenwriting is what you're meant to do."  I begged....begged her...to watch William Holden in Billy Wilder's Sunset Boulevard so she could get a clue.  BEGGED her.

The sweetly clueless husband to Bliss' controlling mother is played by Daniel Stern.

I don't know if the young blogger movie critics at the screening realized the brilliance of casting Daniel Stern as the dad in this coming-of-age sports comedy.

When Stern was young and curly-haired, he played one of small town teens in the sleeper hit of 1979, a coming-of-age sports comedy called Breaking Away.  There was male bonding and a teen dealing with his parents.  He finds his own identity via a bicycle race.  The low-budget hit wound up getting an Oscar nomination for Best Picture of 1979.
When this movie came out, Drew was about four years old.  We'd soon see her in Steven Spielberg's 1982 blockbuster, E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.

Breaking Away is a better film with its Oscar-nominated original screenplay, but Whip It has some nice things going for it.  There's heart and warmth in Whip It and it's cool to see this kind of story being told from the female perspective.  It has my favorite Kristin Wiig movie performance before she did Bridesmaids.  I loved her as Maggie Mayhem.

There's more to Maggie than meets the sports eye.  And she totally broke me up laughing when she talks about one ex-boyfriend's lack of sexual hygiene.  When I was a kid, local roller derby matches were shown on local Southern California TV over the weekends.  Those dames had some brass ovaries.  They played hard. The games were on KTLA/Channel 5.  Former Hollywood actor-turned-sportscaster Dick Lane was the announcer.  The only other movie I can recall that highlighted women in that sport was 1972's Kansas City Bombers starring Raquel Welch. Dick Lane did a cameo in the movie.
Drew Barrymore took a small role in Whip It on camera and took a bigger role behind the camera as its director.  The movie is under two hours.  Not a bad directorial debut.  Give it a look.  And Drew's feel-good roller derby story brought actor Daniel Stern full circle.



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