Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Whip It, or: The Bo City Rollers

Bookshop owner-operators, scantily clad entertainers at a sports bar, Texas roller derby girls–what else could these characters have in common but Feminist February?

The Film:

Whip It

The Premise:

When she secretly joins a roller derby team, teenaged Bliss finds a second family but puts her other relationships–and skeletal system–at risk.

The Ramble:

In addition to her rather unfortunate name, teenager Bliss has inherited the burden of her mother’s expectations:  specifically, her expectation that Bliss will take the beauty pageant scene by storm as her mother did.

After an incident with blue hair dye gone awry, it becomes clear that Bliss’s mother takes pageants much more seriously than her daughter.  In fact, even Bliss’s younger sister seems more excited about competing despite her young age.

Though stuck in the small Texas town of Boden, it’s not all bad.  Bliss has her fellow waitress and bff Pash to keep her company and get into all of the best kinds of trouble with.  As long as she has her bestie, Bliss seems resigned to her fate as a perpetual beauty contestant.

two girls at a diner talk next to the bar, both wearing pink aprons with pig faces on them

That is, until one day while shopping with her mother, Bliss sees a group of giggling women swan in on roller skates.  From flyers they pass around, Bliss learns these are derby girls and decides she will find a way to get to the derby in Austin.

Under the guise of attending a high school football game, Bliss and Pash drive to Austin to check out the roller derby.  Bliss is immediately interested in both the sport and a generically cute guy.  After derby girl Maggie Mayhem invites Bliss to try out on Tuesday, she schemes to cover up her absence with her parents, find a route to Austin via public transport, and conveniently forget the rule that players must be at least 21.

Trying out for the Hurl Scouts is no cake walk–the women are fast, intense, and fully ready to body check competitors in this contact sport.  As a speedy skater, Bliss is a perfect contender for the role of jammer, the only one on each team who can score points.  The jammers will attempt to lap the other team members, scoring a point for each lap.  Fellow team members will help their jammer along while trying to sabotage the other team’s jammer–frequently with physical contact that can leave a vicious bruise.

two women in helmets crouch next to each other, preparing to race in a roller derby rink

Despite Bliss’s speed, she timidly avoids altercations with her competitors–kind of a problem in a contact sport.  However, she does join the team and earn her derby girl name, Babe Ruthless.

It’s only after joining the team that Bliss learns the Hurl Scouts are notorious in the league as constant losers.  As the song goes, girls just wanna have fun, and the team really leans into its reputation.  They certainly aren’t improving their odds by ignoring their long-suffering coach and refusing to carry out the plays from his painstakingly created play book.

While bonding with the team after hours, Bliss runs into the cute guy again at a party.  She learns that he, like every other 20-something dude since the beginning of time, is in a shitty band that thinks it’s destined for greatness.  Oliver, which I think is actually a nice name and better than this dude deserves, and his band do seem to have some success as they do have an album.

a teenage boy and girl lie next to each other on the hood of a car parked by a field

With Bliss as jammer and the coach’s plays guiding their games, the Hurl Scouts begin to enjoy success too, winning against some of the other teams for the first time ever.  Everything seems to be falling into place for Bliss, who also gets serious with Oliver in an underwater sex scene that looks logistically very difficult to accomplish.

a group of women toast a teenage girl at a diner, holding up a poster of her

However, things inevitably begin to unravel after the police break up a derby that violates fire safety regulations.  Caught with beer in hand, Pash is arrested.  Bliss, who escapes with Oliver, doesn’t realize the trouble her bff is in.  To make matters worse, Bliss’s parents learn the truth about her roller derby nights as a result, Bliss’s rival Iron Maven discovers that her fiercest competitor is just 17, and Oliver will shortly be off on tour with the band.

Having alienated everyone she cares about and put the Hurl Scouts’ chance at victory in jeopardy, will Bliss be able to make things right while following her dreams?

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

The cast here is absolutely stellar:  Ellen Page (even though she sometimes falls into the trap of playing the same character over and over again), Marcia Gay Harden, Kristen Wiig, Eve, Alia Shawkat, Drew Barrymore…I could go on.  Additionally, this is Drew Barrymore’s directorial debut.  Not sure if Drew decided against sitting in the director’s chair again because I can’t think of another reason we live in a world with no more director credits for her.

As well as Bliss’s coming of age story, I love the focus on the ladies here and their relationships.  Bliss and Pash’s relationship is everything to me, and the rapport among the Hurl Scouts is so uplifting.  The film approaches Bliss’s difficult relationship with her mother realistically but doesn’t paint Brooke as a one-dimensional monster, which is refreshing.  As for the men, if you’re not here to support Bliss, you’re not welcome at all.  Men are definitely on the sidelines in this film.

However, there are a few issues that stood out to me with the film too.  The entire storyline with Oliver feels unnecessary.  I know the sexual awakening scene is basically a requirement of any coming-of-age film now, but I gave zero fucks about it.  At least this film doesn’t idealize teenage romance with what is essentially a mediocre white dude who plays guitar slightly above average.

I also felt like I was missing some further explanation of Brooke’s insistence on Bliss’s beauty pageant participation and opposition to roller derby.  Is the pageant supposed to pay for Bliss to attend college?  Did pageants mean so much to Brooke that she thinks it’s important for Bliss to carry on the tradition?  I would’ve liked a bit more depth as the (spoiler) reversal of her parents’ strong anti-derby stance feels a little too convenient.

The roller derby name “Jabba the Slut” deserves its own corner of appreciation, though.

Would my blog wife roll with this one or knock it out of the ring?  Find out by reading her review here!

Collaborative Blogging, Film Reviews

Tallulah: A Case Study

Hooray for fuck-ups!  At least that’s our theme this month (and let’s be honest—every month.  Every DAY).  This week’s pick is brought to you by Allison Janney and Ellen Page, but mostly Allison Janney.

The Film:

Tallulah

Where to Watch:

Netflix (US)

The Premise:

Ellen Page steals a baby!  Also Allison Janney is in this.

The Uncondensed Version:

Tallulah (Lu) and her boyfriend Nico have been on the road, living out of a van for the last couple of years.  Things begin to fall apart when Nico suggests they settle down a bit, maybe even marry and have children.  Lu, much more of a free spirit, freaks out a bit, leading to a big fight and Nico’s departure.  With nothing to go on beyond Nico’s brief mention of going home, Lu heads to NYC to find his mom.

Nico’s mom, Margo, is played by Allison Janney (who in fact makes this movie).  In the midst of a divorce, fearing she will be kicked out of university-sponsored housing, and alienated from her son, Margo is not in a good place and not particularly welcoming.

After Margo sends her away, Lu goes to a hotel to scavenge and is mistaken for housekeeping.  An unhappy trophy wife asks Lu to watch the baby, Madison, while she goes on a date.  This woman, Carolyn, doesn’t seem to know the first thing about babies, letting her daughter toddle around naked, claiming she is already potty trained and doesn’t need diapers.

Carolyn is a pretty insufferable character and is accustomed to paying people to do anything she can’t or doesn’t want to do herself, including applying her makeup and putting her shoes on her feet.  She has a bit of a breakdown about how incompetent she is as a mother, but it was really difficult to sympathize.  Possibly because I find it difficult to sympathize, period.

a woman with wavy blonde hair sits on a chair, crying
Is it wrong that I’m also annoyed by how perfect her hair is?

By the time Carolyn returns home, she is drunk and passes out almost immediately.  When Madison reaches her arms out to Lu, she takes it as a sign and leaves the hotel with Madison.

a young woman holds a baby, who is playing with her necklace
The thing that scares me about babies is you never know if they just like shiny things or if they actually intend to choke you.

With nowhere else to go, Lu returns to Margo’s apartment and claims Madison is Nico’s daughter.  Margo agrees to let them stay for a night, which of course becomes longer.

Margo, Lu, and Madison bond a bit though mostly Margo yells at Lu for her complete incompetence as a mother.  We learn a bit more about Margo’s divorce, including the tidbit that she has yet to sign the divorce papers.  After many years of marriage, Margo’s husband came out as gay and left her for a man (Zachary Quinto).  Margo refuses to sign the papers in part because she’s angry that her husband is considered brave after so many years of lying and ultimately breaking up their family.

a woman sitting on the floor with a large abstract painting holds up a paint-covered hand
Why go to a paint ‘n wine class when you can get drunk and make bad paintings for free?

Lu, on the other hand, remains pretty mysterious.  The only thing she reveals is that she was named after a bar in the town where she grew up, and possibly hints that one or both of her parents were alcoholics.  When asked if she was raised by wolves, she responds “I wish.”

Meanwhile, Carolyn is frantic about her missing daughter, partially because her husband has no idea she is in NYC and will never forgive her for losing their daughter.

You know this isn’t going to end well.

The Rating:

3.5/5 Pink Panther Heads

I don’t know if I like this one or not.  Allison Janney is amazing in this (duh).  There are moments that are very successful, and I like that it’s very focused on exploring themes rather than plot.

On the other hand, the tone strikes me as very uneven.  It’s a drama, but it has some lighter moments and (almost) a comedy ending.  I also didn’t really buy Margo and Lu’s bond—by the end, it was meant to be very strong, but I didn’t think enough time was spent establishing that.

My mom watched quite a chunk of this with me, and she thought the subtitle should be “A Psychologist’s Case Notes” or something along those lines.  It did seem to be a very clinical study of the characters’ personalities and motivations.

Even though she’s the titular character, I think Lu’s motivations remain the most obscure.  It’s odd that she takes the baby so soon after having a discussion with Nico insisting she doesn’t want to settle down and have a conventional life.  But the movie is all about deception and self-deception, so perhaps these are things Lu does want to some degree.  All of the characters seem to lack clarity regarding what how they’d like the future to look and instead try to replay old scenarios with a happier ending.  Lu may want to create the happy childhood she presumably never had without having to really commit to being a parent or leaning on others for help.

I like the exploration here, but not necessarily the execution.

Would Christa take the money and run or take the baby and…stun (rhyming is hard)?  Find out by reading her review here!