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Barrymore's Whip It Delivers

Thompson on Hollywood By Leonard Maltin | Thompson on Hollywood October 2, 2009 at 10:28AM

Reelz Channel host Leonard Maltin reviews Drew Barrymore's Whip It this week.
Thompson on Hollywood

Reelz Channel host Leonard Maltin reviews Drew Barrymore's Whip It this week.

Drew Barrymore has done herself proud. Her first directorial effort, Whip It, is a highly entertaining film that draws on several time-worn ingredients (coming of age, a fish out of water) and blend them with a female-empowerment theme to make something that’s fresh and fun. Barrymore first great choice was casting Ellen Page, fresh from Juno, to play the leading character, a high-school girl who grimly endures her mother’s insistence that she enter beauty pageants—until she finds a way to break free. Because the sport of roller derby is as foreign to her as it is to some of us in the audience, we share her gradual indoctrination to this unusual world and its lively denizens. By the time the film is over, we’re rooting for her, both on and off the track.
Whip It touches on a number of relatable themes, including the often-painful process of leaving old friends behind when you discover a new passion. But what I like most about Shauna Cross’ screenplay (adapted from her young-adult novel Derby Girl) is that it has a big heart. There are no real villains, just wrong-headed people who need to be enlightened, including Page’s mother (played by the wonderful Marcia Gay Harden) and a tough girl on the opposing team (Juliette Lewis) who’s determined to give Page as much grief as possible. Other supporting roles are well written and equally well played, by Alia Shawkat, Kristen Wiig, Andrew Wilson, Jimmy Fallon, Landon Pigg, Daniel Stern, and Barrymore herself, as one of Page’s flakier teammates.

Unlike some actor-directors, Barrymore seems determined to give herself as little screen time as possible, deliberately cutting away from shots involving her lest anyone think of the film as a vanity project. She needn’t have worried: she’s delivered the goods.

This article is related to: Stuck In Love, Reviews, Critics

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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.