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Whip It Blu-ray Review

Whip It (2009) movie poster Whip It

Theatrical Release: October 2, 2009 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Drew Barrymore / Writer: Shauna Cross (screenplay & novel)

Cast: Ellen Page (Bliss Cavendar), Marcia Gay Harden (Brooke Cavendar), Kristen Wiig (Maggie Mayhem), Drew Barrymore (Smashley Simpson), Juliette Lewis (Iron Maven), Jimmy Fallon ("Hot Tub" Johnny Rocket) Alia Shawkat (Pash), Eve (Rosa Sparks), Zoe Bell (Bloody Holly), Ari Graynor (Eva Destruction), Eulala Scheel (Shania Cavendar), Andrew Wilson (Razor), Carlo Alban (Birdman), Landon Pigg (Oliver), Kristen Adolfi (Manson Sister #1), Rachel Piplica (Manson Sister #2), Daniel Stern (Earl Cavendar)

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By Kelvin Cedeno

It's quite staggering to see how far Drew Barrymore has come since her E.T. days. She's gone from a precocious child star to a derailed teenager, bounced back to being a popular actress, and now she's a budding producer and director.
While it's common for actors to try their luck in the director's chair, few really manage to make an indelible mark. Barrymore's directorial debut, Whip It, is not some grand, desperate attempt to demonstrate how much the actress has learned. Yet it manages to prove that just through its simplicity and intimacy.

In the film, socially-awkward 17-year old Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) is sick of her small-town Texas life. Having an overbearing mother (Marcia Gay Harden) who forces her to participate in various pageants doesn't exactly help matters. On an impulse, Bliss decides to try out for the competitive sport of roller derby. She's not entirely comfortable with the game even after making the team, but eventually she comes into her own. This newfound confidence spills over into her personal life and affects her relationships with her mother, her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat), and her rocker boyfriend Oliver (Landon Pigg).

Bliss Cavendar (Ellen) is taken aback when she's revealed to be the new poster child for the Lonestar Roller Derby. The Hurl Scouts (Eve, Drew Barrymore, Kristen Wiig) and Razor find themselves at a strategic disagreement in the middle of their championship match.

Anyone expecting a storyline with many twists and turns won't find it here. Whip It's story has been done to death; it's true. The tale of the underdog who seeks a life apart from a disapproving parent can be traced all the way back to the first talkie, 1927's The Jazz Singer. Unlike many similar films, however, Whip It uses this clichιd formula to its advantage. It doesn't make the mistake of taking itself so seriously that it turns into a parody of itself. Instead, it gives the tried and true elements a wink and a nudge, choosing to dwell more on the details and developments that tie these pieces together.
There's a noticeable focus on character interactions rather than plot mechanics, a refreshing quality to this film.

Director Drew Barrymore and screenwriter Shauna Cross (who based this story off her own roller derby experiences) create a world that's simultaneously quirky and real. They know when to approach the material in a tongue-in-cheek manner that allows the audience to sit back and enjoy it, but they also show enough restraint so as not to rob the story of its drama. The actors all across the board infuse the already lively screenplay with clear enthusiasm and spirit. Ellen Page shows that she can play other roles outside of her career-defining turn as Juno. The character of Bliss is about as far from that self-assured smarminess as one could get, and Page makes the character's transition into womanhood smooth and believable. Marcia Gay Harden and, surprisingly enough, Daniel Stern both make indelible impressions as concerned yet clueless parents.

Whip It is not groundbreaking cinema, nor does it fool itself into thinking it's anything of the sort. Nevertheless, its familiar tale is presented with a great deal of fun and spunk. Sports films usually run the risk of isolating audience members who don't share a passion for the activity portrayed. That's not the case here as the engaging performances, playful tone, and sincere core all come together for a palatable and winning experience.

Buy Whip It on Blu-ray from Amazon.com Blu-ray Disc Details

2.40:1 Widescreen
5.1 DTS-HD (English), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Release Date: January 26, 2010
Two single-sided discs (1 BD-50 & 1 DVD-5 DVD-ROM)
Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Green Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available on DVD
Blockbuster Total Access - 2 Week Free Trial


Whip It comes to Blu-ray in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1. It's astounding to see just how good a modestly-budgeted independent film can look in high-definition. The feature is color timed in a manner that boosts the saturation level, and that's replicated beautifully here. Fine detail is consistently sharp and visible in every shot, unmarred by defects of either the print or digital variety. The image has a smooth, velvety quality thanks to its fine film grain being left intact, leaving no room for any sort of complaints.

The DTS-HD 5.1 track isn't as impressive, but it's still pleasing to the ears. Dialogue is strong and crisp. Music seems mixed a little lower than expected, and the sound effects likewise. As such, the track is rather front-heavy. Considering this is more of a character-based film than an action one, though, that's not a major concern. It may not be as involving as it could be, but the track does what it needs to do.

In this deleted scene, Bliss tries to talk Razor (Andrew Wilson) out of quitting as the Hurl Scouts' coach. The remarkably normal Shauna Cross shares how she and her friends formed their own roller derby team in the Fox Movie Channel short "Writer's Draft."


The extras here are shockingly anemic, starting with nine deleted scenes (16:14) (HD). All of these offer cut character beats rather than any extended roller derby footage. Some merely validate motivations already expressed or hinted at in the finished film.
All are fun to see, and a few (such as two character-building scenes for Razor the coach) go missed.

Exclusive to the Blu-ray, "Fox Movie Channel Presents Writer's Draft: Shauna Cross of Whip It" (3:04) (SD) is a brief interstitial from the network rather than a lengthy special. Author/screenwriter Shauna Cross talks about how she got involved in roller derby and what led her to writing both a novel and a screenplay inspired by that experience. It's tantalizingly short and only gives the writer enough time to spout a few interesting facts. Coupled with fleeting glimpses at production footage, that makes one long for a thorough making-of featurette and commentary.

A 30-second Whip It soundtrack spot wraps up the supplements, and a now-standard digital copy on a second disc is included for mobile viewing.

The disc opens with trailers for Amelia, Fame, and (500) Days of Summer, plus a promo for registration with the American Film Institute.

The main menu features a highly stylized montage of movie clips, character stills, and clipart of stars, each element assigned a different eye-popping color scheme. The pop up menu opens upwards and continues an annoying trend of other Fox titles where instead of listing the submenu options all at once, one must toggle through each individually in a small space.

The Blu-ray and digital copy discs come housed in a standard Blu-ray case. While the copy sent for this review featured the usual blue casing, retail copies a more aesthetically-pleasing green case. Inside is an activation code for the digital copy and a pamphlet advertising (500) Days of Summer and the Whip It soundtrack.

Bliss (Ellen Page) is not exactly like the other girls competing in the town's pageant and that fact goes far beyond her choice of hair color. Earl (Daniel Stern) and Brooke Cavendar (Marcia Gay Harden) react to Bliss' fable of SAT prep courses with a mixture of pride and perplexity.


Drew Barrymore has proven time and again that she's a capable and talented actress. With Whip It, she now proves she has an eye for directing, as well. She almost effortlessly juggles drama and comedy all while breathing some life into an oft-told tale. Of course, it doesn't hurt to have a sprightly screenplay and skilled performers, either. The Blu-ray disc is a disappointment in the extras department, but its image is flawless, and its sound solid. Those who enjoy underdog stories, quirky indie films, or a combination or the two would do well to rent this buoyant and involving little film.

Buy from Amazon.com / Buy on DVD from Amazon.com / The Book: Derby Girl by Shauna Cross

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Reviewed February 5, 2010.

Text copyright 2010 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2009 Fox Searchlight, Mandate Pictures, Flower Films, Rye Road Productions, and 2010 Fox Home Entertainment.
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