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Friday, September 29, 2023

Life + Arts

Girl power flick rocks, amuses

The title of the film Whip It! makes reference to a roller derby move where a player flings a teammate forward in the rank to help score points.’

Like the title, Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut whips girl-oriented cinema into new tough heights.

Based on the novel Derby Girl by Shauna Cross, the film strikes a chord with all viewers.’

Cross, who also wrote the screenplay for Whip It!, pays homage to the city of Austin, where the revival of the modern roller derby began. ‘

Ellen Page plays Bliss Cavendar, a small-town teenage indie girl who tries to find more to life than beauty pageants, diners and high school bullies.’ In the meantime, Bliss’ loving and overbearing mother shuffles her from one beauty contest to another.’

One day, Bliss discovers a group of women armed with knee and elbow pads, fishnets, short shirts, mouth guards, lipstick and bruises on roller skates, who inspire her to transform into a roller derby queen.’

The transformation of Bliss into the fast-rolling derby ranks plays out realistically by Bliss simply following her heart. Like most teenage girls, she lies to her parents and skates into conflicts. However, like any heroine, she faces her trials head-on and deals with the consequences.’

What may not be as believable is the forced romance storyline. A bit too much time was devoted to saccharine scenes with Bliss and her beau running and kissing in the fields. It seems somewhat detached from the rest of the story line and begs the question: does a girl’s coming-of-age story need romance with a boy to make it interesting or worth telling? ‘

Girls from the Houston Roller Derby were present at the Houston premiere of Whip It! and gave the inside scoop on how close the film is to the real world of roller derby today.

‘What was portrayed on the screen was a bit more like the’ ’70s version of roller derby, where it’s over the top,’ Scarlett O’Hurtya, who plays for the Psych Ward Sirens, said. ‘In modern derby, we are not allowed to punch in the face’hellip; It’s very different.’

The film employs inclined bank tracks, while over 90 percent of the teams in the U.S. play on flat tracks. O’Hurtya described playing on flat tracks as a more ‘athletic version’ of the sport.’

Unlike the film, fighting and elbowing are not allowed according to a strict set of international rules, O’Hurtya said.’

While the action was dramatized for movie making, the culture was captured accurately.

‘It is about the camaraderie and the friendship,’ O’Hurtya said. ‘What derby tends to attract is all the little misfits. They somehow find a place to belong in derby.”

Bliss’ experience is one O’Hurtya can relate to.’

‘Until derby, I had never played a real team sport before, and somehow found my inner athlete with this and found a different facet to my personality,’ O’Hurtya said. ‘You might have been an outcast, but you may just find a home with 50 other outcasts’hellip; like a second family.’

O’Hurtya likes how the film showcases a variety of women, much like the Houston league.

‘Not all of us are punk rockers with tattoos,’ O’Hurtya said. ‘We have girls with Ivy League educations. We have girls with not a single tattoo’hellip; Most of us are librarians, teachers, biochemists; we are very normal people.’

The film also hits right on with a few inside jokes.

‘We were also shut down by the fire marshal because of over capacity in our venue!’ O’Hurtya said.

Roller derby is an international sport with more than 300 leagues in the U.S. alone, and Houston’s team is in the top 12.

Whip It! has the right mixture of laughs, action and style to amuse most audiences.

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