The crowd went wild for Drew Barrymore’s "Whip It" Sunday night, imitating the enthusiasm on the big screen.
Barrymore, adapting the novel by Shauna Cross, assembled an ensemble cast for her directorial debut — the majority of whom came onstage for her elaborate introduction.
Lavishly dressed and brimming with delight, they looked like they were ready to perform a dance number. Based on the enthusiastic audience reaction, it practically seemed like they did.
Ellen Page stars as Bliss, an energetic Texan teen drawn to the fast and furious world of roller derby rather than the beauty pageant ideal enforced by her uptight mother (Marcia Gay Harden).
Page’s character joins a league in Austin, finding her voice in a lively, punk-inflected scene. Her teammates include an amiable Kristin Wiig, Juliet Lewis and Zoe Bell (the stunt woman who starred in Quentin Tarantino’s "Death Proof").
Meanwhile, Bliss navigates adolescence with her partner in crime, Pash ("Arrested Development" alumn Alia Shawkat). The cast is rounded out by Andrew Wilson as the
skaters’ jovial coach.
Although by no means transcendent, the movie delivers a competent example of a teen sports movie, with good natured humor, a relatable young protagonist and sharply captured action sequences.
Page, who reportedly dropped out of Sam Raimi’s "Drag Me to Hell" due to fears of getting typecast as a feirce heroine in the wake of "Juno," finds an agreeable balance of her tough and fragile tendencies.
The movie has a good chance of commercial success, particularly with Fox Searchlight behind it for an October release. Barrymore made sure to thank the distributor in her elaborate introduction, where she went out of her way to explain every main actor’s role.
Ordinarily, this would seem overly extravagant, but the main selling point of "Whip It" lies with the inherent appeal of its star.
Whether or not Barrymore decides to remain behind the camera, she has proven that she’s capable of handling the job. The movie stands to receive a strong publicity bump from the festival, particularly since it premiered after the buzz for Jason Reitman’s "Up in the Air" hit earlier in the weekend.