Ellen Page, left, and Alia Shawkat in "Whip It," a movie which doesn't live up to its promise. (Darren Michaels)
"Whip It" looks like it was a fun movie to make. Unfortunately, it's not all that fun to watch.
Awkward, shaky and simply off, right from the beginning, the film can't live up to the visceral promise of its subject matter -- women who exult in roller derby. This should be mesmerizing stuff, with well-carved characters and zipping action scenes, but most of the team members exist in a party-hearty haze, and the shots of roller derby are pedestrian at best.
Ellen Page stars as Bliss, a small-town Texas girl whose mother (Marcia Gay Harden) has pushed her into beauty contests all her life. Bliss wants more.
And then she discovers the women's roller derby team in nearby Austin. Keeping it secret from her parents, she tries out for the team. She makes it. She becomes a star.
That's about it. There are hot tub scenes, and party scenes, and a food fight scene that makes no sense, so we know being a roller derby girl is fun, and being a movie star can be fun.
But none of it flows. The most awful moments come in an elongated underwater ballet make-out session between Page and a beau. People holding their breath forever so they can bump noses underwater. Yeah, that makes sense.
"Whip It," shot here in Michigan, is the first film directed by Drew Barrymore, who has a small role, and the second script by Shauna Cross, based on her novel. They are obviously finding their sea legs here, and the boat never stops rocking.
The performances, understand, are fine. Page and Harden could read a phone book and make you care. And if "Whip It" serves as inspiration for young women, God bless it. But as a film, it wobbles like a 5-year-old on skates.