Drew Barrymore's directorial stint in this breakneck, routine comedy-drama falls just short of the finish line for a second-place tumble onto the back shelf of Hollywood's forgettable sports dramas. Academy Award-nominee Ellen Page (Juno, An American Crime) is Bliss Cavender, a 17-year-old misfit from Bodeen, Texas, where fish are jumping and the cotton is high and the greatest past-time is getting one's picture taken for the hall of fame at the local Oink Joint. Fed-up with the role of beauty queen in her mother Claire's off-beat fantasy of America's sweetheart, Bliss finds her true calling in the fast-paced world of roller derby, where, when the going gets tough, the tough get rolling. For the Hurl Scouts, a rough-and-tumble gang of tattoo-bearing, hard-drinking dames, second-place (or thirteenth, as far they're concerned) is the first winner as long as there's a beer and a hot tub to barf in. Encouraged by their coach, Razor (Andrew Wilson), and a die-hard determination to break even with their nemesis, the Holy Rollers, the Hurl Scouts, led by Maggie Mayhem, Smashley Simpson, Bloody Holly, and Rosa Sparks (Kristen Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Zoe Bell, and Eve), up their game with Bliss as their new front-runner, "Babe Ruthless." A few victories and a budding romance with an indie-rock musician lead Bliss to believe that her true home is on the rink. When her new-found hobby threatens her relationship with her best friend, Pash, and her parents, Bliss finds herself competing on a much bigger course where the main obstacle is to reestablish what is most important to her in becoming her own hero.
At twenty-three (and with an Oscar nomination to fall back on for the next few years), Ellen Page has proven to be quite comfortable in the role of the coming-of-age teen that had Judy Garland on the war path while filming Meet Me in St. Louis at the age of twenty-two. While audiences may rejoice in the young playing the young (as opposed to waiting twenty-odd years to go all out with Sly Stallone, botox, and Rambo IV), Page's socially awkward performance as Bliss Cavender is a Death-Valley tumble from the role of Juno MacGuff that earned the Oscar-nomination for Best Actress back in 2007. Due to a plot that is undeniably cliche (not to mention downright corny in Barrymore's hands), audiences ought not to be too hard on Page. Rather, it is the film's lack of originality and presentation (from a not-so-likable underdog to a outright unlikeable pack) that ranks it below more gratifying films like Ice Princess, She's the Man, and Bend it Like Beckham. Even the unwept and unsung world of roller derby adds no unique feel to the film, which pales in comparison to the oft-heard-of sports dramas that hail to a broader fanbase. Nevertheless, viewers with an exceedingly sensitive (or sympathetic) funnybone may find Drew Barrymore sporting a bloody nose and a IQ of 50 to be vastly entertaining. Aside from this, Whip It is just another mundane coming-of-age comedy-drama that audiences would do better to pass up - even if it is for Rambo IV.