Well, yes, tattoos, flying over the railing, and skimpy, cheesy outfits and the whole slanted oval. But Drew Barrymore, in her debut as a movie director, was smart enough to snag the one young female star who could really propel this thing around the small, smoke-filled track: Ellen Page of “Juno” fame, whose face is just innocent enough to be alluring, and whose skating skills are just good enough to look realistic, and whose acting is just focused enough to help us suspend our disbelief for a while, even in a predictable plot.
A teenage girl named Bliss gets dragged to beauty contests by her postal-carrier Mom (the perfectly-cast Marcia Gay Harden). Bliss is a rebel without a cause, but in the roller derby she finds the perfect vehicle for her late adolescent rebellion — sneak out of the house, lace ‘em up, and kick some serious redneck booty (and you have to like Juliette Lewis as the scowling, tough-girl rival). Jimmy Fallon hams it up as the MC in the smoke-filled rink (reminiscent of a carnival barker doing boxing matches in black and white). Drew casts herself as one of the skaters, but at least she doesn’t trip over her own inclusiveness.
The term “Whip It” refers to a slingshot kind of move, where a teammate slings our petite little fireball so hard around a curve that she passes opposing players (which is technically how to score points, but everyone knows that the real style points are in the bumps, grinds, and bruises jockeying with the other team for position.) Nobody gets a free skate. Everyone gets smashed and falls to the hard floor, to the delight of the cheering and jeering crowd, while they pop open another beer.
Well, at least the parental conflict is in the context of a good, formative relationship. At least the new boyfriend stuff doesn’t get her in too much trouble. And sure, as long as we’re dreaming, why not have her friend at the local eatery get accepted into an Ivy League school while waiting tables for pocket change? This is, after all, about chasing your dream. Around and around and around and around …
RONALD P. SALFEN is pastor of Grace Church, Greenville, Texas.