Whip It - Let the good times roll

Whip It - Let the good times roll

Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut, Whip It, is the high-octane story of indie-rock misfit Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) who escapes small town family life by joining the US roller derby circuit. But does the film get close to capturing the real excitement of the sport? In the spirit of our Glasgow vs Edinburgh issue we’ve asked old rivals (actually firm friends) the Glasgow Irn Bruisers and the Auld Reekie Roller Girls to pass comment. Interviews by Paul Gallager and Paul Dale.

Irn Bruisers

What did you think of the film?

Lethal Loulou: I think it’s brilliant and I think everybody should go and see it! It’s really feel-good, and shows why roller derby is so awesome; how it lets you put such confidence in yourself. That’s what the whole film’s about, because everyone’s trying to force Bliss into being a beauty pageant queen, and she secretly goes off and plays roller derby and ‘finds herself’ and then has the guts to say ‘this is who I am’.

Coco Pox: If it was a film about a boys’ sport, we’ve all seen that kind of thing before, but this is a women’s sport, where a woman is the hero and the romance stuff takes a back seat. And she doesn’t go off into the sunset; she goes off to the derby!

Poison Delight: It is Hollywood-ised, definitely, but there are some elements that are quite true, like the reasons people get into roller derby, and that feeling you get when you’re with a bunch of girls that you have a lot in common with.

Sarah McMilan: It wasn’t as good as Juno, but it was a step above the generic sports film. I saw the trailer for it the other night and shivered again; every time I hear her say ‘I’m in love with this’ I get goosebumps.

Was it a fair representation of the roller derby scene?

Lethal Loulou: It was really good for showing what it’s like in America. It’s growing in popularity. Hundreds of people support teams and they have special warehouses where they can go and train and play games. We’re starting to get there and hopefully in a couple of years that might be us getting our own warehouse.

Sarah McMilan: The age range of the players in the film is great. You have people like Juliette Lewis and Drew Barrymore who are my age – mid 30s – and that’s very representative. Our team’s ages go up to 43, and that’s the wonderful thing about roller derby, it’s for all women of all shapes and sizes and ages.

Was there anything in particular that you wished it had included?

Sarah McMilan: I think some bits in it were unnecessary. But it’s a Hollywood film, so it’s a good idea to make it look glamorous and exciting and a bit offbeat. We don’t punch people though! Don’t get me wrong, it’s a full-contact sport, but you don’t punch anyone.

Coco Pox: [tongue-in-cheek] That’s for the after-party.

Do you think the actors could survive on a Glasgow track?

Lethal Loulou: Yeah I do. I think they could give us a good run for our money! A lot of the skaters in the film are actually real skaters, so it’s a real representation of the girls who play derby.
Coco Pox: I think that backs up the tag line, ‘Be your own hero.’ It’s not cartoon superheroes, it’s real people, and there they are on-screen. And you can tell the actresses from the real skaters from the thickness of their thighs!

Who would play you in a roller derby movie?

Coco Pox: Sarah would be played by that Gladiator, Jet!

Lethal Loulou: I think it would be hard to find an actress tall enough to play me.

Coco Pox: Maybe Lucy Lawless, from Xena: Warrior Princess?

Poison Delight: I would need to be someone short …

Sarah McMilan: Ellen Page, perhaps?

Poison Delight: Well she can skate already, so yeah!

Coco Pox: Meryl Streep for me, because I’ve got a weird accent and the same nose as her. And she’s about 60, proving you don’t have to be young to play roller derby!

Auld Reekie Roller Girls

What did you think of the film?

Bruise Leigh: To be honest I didn’t like the film. It was a kind of chick flick with roller derby in it, which isn’t really my thing. But apart from that I didn’t think it was very accurate. There was a lot of bitchiness and cattiness in Whip It which is the antithesis of what roller derby is about. This the most open and welcoming group of girls and we have a policy of no bitching, no back-stabbing and that’s totally the way it is.

On the plus side I suppose it didn’t make it glossy; all the outfits were still really shoddy and they got the DIY aspect of the sport right. And the line where one of the characters says ‘I’m in love with this’ rings true.

Was it a fair representation of the roller derby scene?

Candy Savage: If you see it for what it is – an American-made, Hollywood type film – it’s fine. It’s a sort of fun Sunday afternoon film. In the film they play more the derby that was played in the 1970s with a banked track. They could have portrayed it as it’s played now because it’s just as dramatic. I did, however, love Juliette Lewis in the film, she was awesome. The film’s pretty funny and has got some kick-ass girls.

Armalite Angie: I’m a bigger girl and roller derby is one of those sports where bigger girls can be included as long as you are physically able to take part and the film didn’t really reflect players like me. There’s also no upper age limit.
Roller derby is predominantly a female sport but we have committees set up and there is never any internal fighting and there is no discrimination. Girls don’t pick on girls or do any of that kind of stuff that happens in the film. What happens on the track stays on the track. The depiction of hedonism and extra curricular activities in the film is pretty accurate though. We have themed parties and really let our hair down after a tournament.

Was there anything in particular that you wished it had included?

Candy Savage: The real story should have been how we all find our inner roller derby girl. I’m Hannah in real life, but here I’m Candy Savage. I stand differently, sit differently … living out that persona is a big part of the sport. They could have just showed that story. They didn’t have to use the whole beauty pageant storyline. I’m surprised the film has got such a big release. It needed a bit more bite. Barrymore was playing it safe.

Do you think Whip It will raise the profile of the sport?

Armalite Angie: I’m hoping the film is going to make people more aware. I speak to people every day and they have no idea what we do. They think we line skate and play hockey basically. The sport is the same but they play on a banked track and you can go over the top but for us the only way is to go down.

Whip It is on general release from Fri 9 Apr.

Whip It

  • 3 stars
  • 2009
  • US
  • 1h 51min
  • 12A
  • Directed by: Drew Barrymore
  • Cast: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig

When the quietly rebellious Bliss (Page) falls in with the local roller derby team, and realises she's good at the sport, she's on a one-way ticket to confrontation with her Texan firebrand of a mother. A pleasant surprise, Barrymore's directorial debut, adapted by Shauna Cross from her own novel 'Derby Girl', is by turns…