Whip It (2009)

Rated PG-13. Our ratings: V-4; L-4 ; S/N-3 Running time: 1 hour 51 min.

Children, obey your parents in the Lord,* for this is right.
‘Honour your father and mother’—this is the first
commandment with a promise: ‘so that it may be well
with you and you may live long on the earth.
Epesians 6:1-2

Babe Ruthless takes the lead in a Roller derby match.
2009 Fox Searchlight

In Drew Barrymore’s first film as director Bliss Cavenda (Ellen Page) is not the paragon of the obedient daugh ter. Although she dutifully joins in the round of female activities designed to turn girls into the perfect South ern lady her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) so ardently wants her to be, Bliss is not at all interested in cotillions and beauty pageants. While on a shopping trip to Austin to pick out a dress, Bliss sees a flyer announcing try-outs for a women’s roller derby team, and is smitten by the bug, a few days later sneaking off with a friend and journeying to the city again.

Bliss is small and under age, but she lies about her age and, although clumsy at first on the unfamiliar skates, coach Razor (Andrew Wilson) notes that she is fast—very fast—so she makes the cut. This means lying to her mother so that she can sneak away from her small town several days a week for training, and then for the matches. The team is called The Hurl Scouts, and so of course, their uniforms consist of short Girl Scout dresses and green tights, crash helmets, and kneepads. The names of the players are equally fanciful, Bliss’s mentor being called Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig),), Smashley Simpson (Barrymore herself), Bloody Holly (Zoe Bell), Rosa Sparks (Eve) and Eva Destruction (Ari Graynor). The leader of their opposing team and chief rival is Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis). Bliss adopts the name of Babe Ruthless.

I won’t try to go into the rules much, which include a team member being whipped around and required to pass competitors, thereby scoring points because they are well covered in the film. There is a lot of body contact in the sport, and as in Hockey, plenty of grudges that erupt into fights. How Bliss manages to improve her skills to the point that she becomes the key player—and of course, must face her parents when they at last find out her deception—makes for thrilling viewing. As a parent I found it difficult to believe that a daughter could have fooled her parents for such a long time, but by allowing for this unlikelihood, I enjoyed the film as another example of female empowerment. At a time when the majority of films are about boys coming of age and into their own, there is a real need for similar films for our daughters. The film offers a good opportunity for young and older family members to talk about issues of communication and honesty, as well as expectations of society and church about the place of women in our culture.

For Reflection/Discussion

May contain spoilers.

1. Compare the values of Bliss and Mrs. Cavenda her mother? How is the daughter a counter-cultural person? From a reading of the gospels, especially of Luke, how do you think that Jesus was also counter-cultural in his views and treatment of women? That is, which of the two, mother and daughter, are closer to Mary and Martha in the famous story of Jesus’ visit to their home?

2. How is women’s Roller Derby itself counter-cultural? What do think it offers that made Bliss so fascinated with it that she was willing to deceive her family?

3. What do you think of Bliss’s lies? Does the end justify the means, or—? (Of course, there would not have been a story, if she had not done what she did, would there?)

4. How are women’s sports regarded in your community? Are they as well funded as men’s sports in high school or college?

5. What do you think of the reconciliation scene and of the statement by Bliss, “The person I admire most is my mother because she’s a fighter. She never gives up. She never gave up on me” ?

6. What about the ending of the Big Match? How does this compare with the usual treatment of the Big Game in the sports film genre?