Drew Barrymore has seen everything. She's been everywhere, she's worked with everybody; she reached the top, fell all the way to the bottom and, patiently and professionally, tried to climb again. Last year she collected very important awards for her wonderful performance in "Grey Gardens", and she also directed her first film, "Whip it", which is very much like her: charming, fresh, winning, sexy in that very particular way Barrymore always made us think about 'sexy'. Some friends laugh at me when I say Drew Barrymore is sexy; I know she's pretty, but she's sexy too.
Beautiful and confident as Barrymore, Bliss Cavendar is the hero of the film. She's played by Ellen Page, who reminds us of Barrymore not because of her role choices or acting abilities but because she has that special naturalness: not the one that makes you great (anyone can achieve greatness –something more related to what others think and rarely aware of the truth inside people-, sooner or later, even if they don't deserve it), I mean the naturalness that doesn't question the fact that someone has been born to live on the screen, forever. Barrymore is that someone, and so is Page.
But the hero Bliss is a particular being. Particular because she innerly defies the suffocating nature of a town in Texas named Bodeen. The film's opening scene is the setting of a beauty pageant. While all of the girls look like Barbies ready to be locked in a box, Bliss is in the bathroom with her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat, revelatory) resolving a situation involving blue hair, if you know what I mean. And it's not that Bliss isn't beautiful (I said she was, didn't I?) and smart; she can win any beauty pageant but she just doesn't believe in it. Still, she does it because it's important for her mom (Marcia Gay Harden, moving as usual). Also, it's not that she's this rebellious, bright, somewhat revolutionary teen that wants to change the world. She wants to get out of Bodeen, plain and simple; and so does her best friend. Wait, I still haven't mentioned the best part about the main character. Bliss perfectly knows what she doesn't want, but she still hasn't found what she wants, what might –or not- define her in some way. We see her working in a diner, and then lying in bed. We can tell that she isn't unhappy, but she isn't happy either.
As a director, Barrymore is wise enough to present Bodeen not as the dumb little village it could have been presented as. I guess Shauna Cross, the film's writer and the author of the novel it's based on, knows that a town like this is not always as we watch it on film. But Barrymore holds the key card. She's seen enough to understand there are conventional plot developments that can't be skipped. Hell, she even knows that the dad played by Daniel Stern has to be kind of primitive but good-hearted as no other character in the movie. However, she fights. No, not to bring something new (in that case, the roller derby, a sport and main event of the movie, is unexplored enough): she fights for something pure, honest. The transparent connection she's always conveyed as an actress makes "Whip it" the movie she would have chosen to make but could never be real until now. Now she's the boss.
That's why the music -by The Section Quartet- plays, mostly, as a silent soundtrack, without talking for the characters. That's why the characters, mostly, don't even talk themselves (there's a beautiful love scene, shot underwater, that begins with pure gestures and concludes the same way, with expressive looks and absolutely no words), except for 'Hot Tub' Johnny Rocket (played by Jimmy Fallon who, well directed, is actually good, and achieved the best performance of his career alongside Barrymore in "Fever Pitch"), the narrator of the roller derby games, a necessarily unbearable character that goes against the quiet nature of the film. That's why Bodeen is never really Bodeen and the sermons are never sermons (the conversations between Bliss and her parents, which are many, are short and potent, never aiming for a certain dramatic impact that only occurs –inevitably- towards the end and between the parents, or when the parents are on their own). That's why there's a character that sings played by a singer, Landon Pigg.
I mean I might be exaggerating but I think Drew Barrymore is probably the only person who can gather a supporting cast that includes a female stunt double (Zoe Bell), a rapper (Eve), a SNL comedian (Kristen Wiig), two probable skaters who never did a film in their lives (Kristen Adolfi and Rachel Piplica), a relatively unknown comedian (Andrew Wilson) and an Oscar nominated actress, among other things. Of course Barrymore plays a role, but a very little one, graciously exaggerated to the point that the viewer is never waiting for her appearance. Even when it's impossible to miss a moment created by her, entirely for her, in which she shouts "food Fight!", the Barrymore that directs also proves to be selfless and lets her actors shine.
Oh, yes, they shine, in the never-ending tale about finding yourself. The moment in which Bliss meets three roller derby players, something cracks; in her and in the movie, who makes way for one of its few slow-motion shots. When you know what you want, that's when you become sexy. The thing with Drew Barrymore is that she knew it all along.
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