While receiving overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics, Whip It performed so poorly at the box office that it couldn’t even make back its $15 million dollar budget. Granted it didn’t open as wide as the average film (a little over 1700 total theaters), but it’s still surprising that a vehicle full of talent from all corners of filmmaking didn’t perform better. Not that box office performance has ever been an indicator of a films quality level—which is precisely what’s going on with Whip It: a quality film wrapped up in a low budget that still manages to entertain.
The memorable heroine of Juno is back and scores huge laughs as Bliss Cavendar, a blue-haired misfit stuck in a tiny Texas town in Whip It, a coming-of-age comedy skating onto Blu-ray Disc with Digital Copy and DVD January 26 from Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment. Tired of following in her family’s footsteps, Bliss discovers a way to put her life on the fast track when she lands a spot on a rough-and-tumble roller derby team. Her journey comes full-circle as she reconnects with her family and finds her own path in the world.
The film really is pretty much as simple as it sounds in the description above. Page’s character attempts to break free of her mother’s grasp (who insists on making her life revolve around the beauty pageant circuit) and in her own little form of rebellion she decides to train and join a roller derby to help assert herself and put herself in a position of command and authority. It’s incredibly basic in setup and execution – sheltered/suppressed teen attempts to break free and become her own person – but while the formula is simple and familiar, it still manages to be entertaining regardless.
While the film isn’t really mirroring or exactly like any other film in recent memory, it did remind me a lot of the Fox trifecta of successful but low-budget outings: Juno, Napoleon Dynamite, and Juno. There’s no real specific element from each film that it borrowed from, but certain elements just triggered my memory of those films more than anything. Which is hardly a bad thing considering those three films were some of the best films in recent memory.
The great thing about this film is it takes a familiar concept but still manages to spin it into its own thing. Barrymore’s first outing as a director is strong, although when the film isn’t focusing on the downtime or dialogue focused sequences it’s a little haphazard, and the addition of her being a member of the “Hurl Scouts” really seems to just bolster the film. While Page is becoming a big star in her own right, Barrymore is a bit of a safety net in terms of the production considering her box office success in the past. Honestly I’m really surprised this film didn’t score higher with audiences—it’s formulaic, yes, but considering how much of a success Juno was it’s a little surprising that this film didn’t break out a bit more. It certainly has the quality to do so.
Whip It’s other strong point is the cast itself. Barrymore and Page aside, you have such other talent as Marcia Gay Harden, Daniel Stern, Jimmy Fallon, Kristen Wigg, Zoe Bell, and Juliette Lewis rounding out the ranks in the film. Some of the roles are overly small and can really only be considered cameos, but they really do just bolster the overall quality of the film. Stern’s role, as the father of Page’s character, especially is almost identical to Page’s in that he doesn’t want to stand up to his wife (Harden) to help give Page some “relief” from the pageantry. Overall it’s a great cast and is really just one of many reasons to check this film out (although keep in mind if you don’t want to be inundated with “girl power” type scenarios then you should probably just stay away from this one).
In the end even though the film is near two hours in length, it really doesn’t feel that. The characters are natural and the progression of the story is gradual enough that it neither feels rushed nor slowed down. The action scenes are great, although the directing of them is slightly sketchy at times, but overall this is a Recommended film. It has its flaws which mostly just stem from the fact it borrows so thoroughly from other stories, but in the end it’s original enough to warrant at least one viewing.
Fox releases Whip It on Blu-ray in a two-disc Elite Blu-ray case. Oddly enough the film was circulated in images as having a green Blu-ray case…but my copy arrived in the standard translucent blue. No idea if that was a change or if I just missed out on adding a third green case to my collection. In any case the film arrives with the usual Blu-ray on one disc and digital copy on another combo. Menus are simple and easy to navigate and overall it’s a nice little package considering they actually re-used the theatrical poster as opposed to printing up some new variant of it.
Video is an AVC encoded affair and being a modern film it looks as you’d expect: new. It’s crisp, clear and full of detail (especially noticeable in all of the brutal moments on the rink that involve blood spilling), with only a few moments looking less than spectacular. It’s a really nice transfer all around and when paired with the equally as enjoyable DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, you’re in for a good time. The only downside to the DTS-HD track is the subwoofer and surrounds aren’t quite as forceful as you’d expect from a full-contact sport that gets shown off in the film.
Extras are certainly not what I expected. Granted the film did underperform in many ways, but I’d hoped they’d go a little more in-depth then the surface-scratching extras that we get here:
• Alternate Opening, Deleted and Extended Scenes (16:14, SD)
• Writers Draft with Shauna Cross (3:04, SD)
There’s also a short soundtrack promo as well but…c’mon. Not even twenty minutes worth of extras here. I’d hoped that Barrymore would at least be game for a commentary it being her first movie and all…but I guess not.
Overall a release worth a Rental. If you like the film enough it’s definitely worth picking up to watch again, but just be forewarned that the extras may as well not have even been included.
Whip It is now available on Blu-ray and DVD.