Rhianwen Benner: It's a "girl power" flick that's long on entertainment but comes up empty in the empowerment department.
Ellen Page stars as an underage Texas teenager feeling pressure from her mother (Marcia Gay Harden) to become a beauty queen when a chance trip to a roller derby changes her destiny.
WHY YOU'LL LOVE IT
The cast is great. Besides Page, there's Kristen Wiig, Eve, Zoe Bell, Andrew Wilson, and Drew Barrymore, who pulls double duty as director. Everyone gets laughs, particularly Wiig during a monologue describing the origin of her case of crabs (you'll die laughing, until you realize your kids are right there too).
While roller derby isn't all that suspenseful of a sport -- the point of the game, after all, is to skate in circles -- it's definitely fun to watch. Things get rough and tumble, and there are unexpectedly fun moments when the team gets experimental with strategy.
Even though the roller derby girls are tough, independent women, they have a softer side too. Wiig's character, a mother herself, encourages Page not to quit on her strained relationship with her family, and challenges her to view things from their perspective.
Being the prototypical "girl power" type, Drew Barrymore has embedded a lot of positive messages in "Whip It" for girls. Page bucks societal pressures and expectations in order to pursue what she loves. We see strong women who march to the beat of their own drum, rather than conforming to societal pressures, and come off cool in their own right.
WHY YOU'LL HATE IT
"Whip It" is hilarious ... for adults. But what messages will your young daughters -- and sons -- take home? Page -- who plays a 17-year-old high schooler -- sleeps with a guy over 21 years old, with no talk or show of birth control or safe sex, with little-to-no consequences. The movie makes this borderline statutory rape scenario quite glamorous and then quickly moves on. Page and the guy in question strip in a pool during a steamy scene and are shown holding one another in post-coital bliss. The only downside: a brief moment of regret when Page says she "gave him everything" after he moved on from the relationship.
Page passes herself off as an adult throughout the movie, leading to a lot of underage drinking. The party scene is glorified: drinking, hot tubs, make-out sessions with random men. During a discussion of sexual encounters, one character makes light of casual sex by saying, "That's why I prefer a good fondling, it's much less complicated." Again, there isn't much in the way of consequences for this behavior, save for a little vomit and a vague incident with the police, and the film doesn't even bother to show how that run-in with the law turns out.
The film is being promoted as "empowering for girls," but what exactly does "girl power" in the film really mean? Is it really empowering for girls to act sexually provocative, wear fishnet stockings and tight booty shorts while wrestling with other girls on roller skates, all with their cleavage hanging out? Meanwhile, a sea of men hoots and hollers at the proceedings. There's a difference between "owning your sexuality" and "objectifying yourself sexually," and this movie is confused about it.
While there are certainly themes of friendship, teamwork, and female-to-female mentoring in "Whip It," there is also a good deal of aggression and legitimate female-to-female threats. Do we simply write this off as healthy competition, or do we draw a line when violence is involved? And speaking of unsportsmanlike conduct, women who skate in the roller derby curse like sailors. To call the language colorful is an understatement. Page also tells her mother at one point that she is "full of sh*t." (She apologizes later.)
THE BOTTOM LINE
"Whip It" is a film with a premise infinitely appealing to teenage girls, but with questionable content. While there are some good "girl power" intentions, the execution might actually be more damaging. It's rated PG-13, but is appropriate for older teens who aren't as prone to taking all their social cues from Hollywood.
|Though technically an adult, Rhianwen Benner voraciously consumes children's media with the passion and wonder of a child. As a researcher at Temple University, she has studied the relationship between media and children's development. She has witnessed many special moms and kids navigate the often complex world of children's entertainment. Based in Los Angeles, she is here to serve as your field guide to what kids watch.|