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Kids Watch: 'Whip It'

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Rhianwen Benner: It's a "girl power" flick that's long on entertainment but comes up empty in the empowerment department.

whip it movie poster ellen page drew barrymore

THE LOWDOWN

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.



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6 comments so far | Post a comment now
Zulu October 9, 2009, 4:51 PM

It’s really sad to see a review like this. the movie was all about empowerment. It was about doing what you love and being dedicated to it. Roller derby is a lot of hard work, it takes dedication and practice.

As for the outfit in the movie. Not all derby outfits have fishnets in them and many of the women choose to wear skirts not just the booty shorts. Many sports have revealing outfits. Cheerleaders outfits are just as skimpy and no one complains about that.

The movie is rated PG-13 for a reason. The sex scene is not glamorous. The movie is very real. The things that happen sometimes happen in real life and it was all about how you handle it. the movie does not glamorize anything. It tells it how it is.

Kristin October 9, 2009, 5:30 PM

Zulu - While I understand your perspective, I do think it is helpful for parents who may not be as lenient as you regarding permiscuous behavior being displayed for their children. I thought the review to be very straight forward and informative. Parents can read this and decide, based on their set of values, if they would want their children to see it.

Theresa October 9, 2009, 6:19 PM

I’m inclined to agree with Zulu here. This is a movie geared to the older set, and it has a lot to do with finding your own values as a teenager on the verge of adulthood. What would be a better message? Do everything your mom tells you, without question? Beauty Pageants are about a billion times more objectifying and diminishing then Derby will ever be. I would rather my daughter do derby than pageants. And if I did take her to a movie like this when she’s old enough, I’d use the sexual situations to build a dialogue with her about smart sex, safe sex, and owning your sexuality. We can’t rely on the media to teach our kids good values, nor can we blame them if they instill poor values. Children take work, sorry.

Caroline October 9, 2009, 10:37 PM

something that bothers me about these sorts of criticisms is that people are always saying that things are being “glamorized,” when really what’s happening is that they aren’t being demonized. to make every teenage sexual encounter in the movies out to be some sort of example of the terrible things that happen would be ridiculously unrealistic because the fact of the matter is they’re not/ 17 year old girls have sex with 21 uear olds all the time, and usually it doesn’t destroy their lives.

Michelle October 10, 2009, 3:46 PM

These reviews are supposed to give parents a heads-up on the content of the films they take their kids to. If my 13-year-old were begging me to see this (and this movie is rated PG-13 and being marketed towards children even younger) then I would want to know if high school girls are drinking and sleeping with older men in it.

This review isn’t arguing against “finding your values” and being yourself. It’s arguing against replacing one kind of objectification (beauty pageants) with another (roller skating half naked while men oogle). It’s just another type of conformity, and girls who see “Whip It” should know that they don’t have to just choose between two options, brain dead beauty queen or hoochie roller derby girl. They can be whatever they want.

Thank you for this great review.

cell tracker March 28, 2011, 11:38 AM

This is a good look into the arena of parental electronics. I have learned a lot from you and appreciate it very much. I will bookmark it and let other folks know about it.


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