Friday, August 6, 2010

When a Problem Comes Along, You Must Whip It

I watched Whip It last night with Jen and found it rather disappointing. On paper it looked great. Ellen Page! Alia Shawkat! Roller Derby! In practice, well...

It's not unwatchable, but it clearly wanted to be the next quirky Indie hit so much that it hurt.

Drew Barrymore is a terrible director. (Not that I'm a huge fan of her work anyway. I share the sentiments aired in her rather scathing fame audit.) One scene in particular was especially awful. Ellen Page was looking at a boy in the parking lot and then some headlights from another car turned on to illuminate him. It looked like an effect you'd get from a spotlight in a high school play.

It suffers in comparison versus other movies, in particular Ghost World. When bespectacled Ellen Page dyes her hair blue in an act of rebellion that sabotages a public appearance, I couldn't help but think of bespectacled Thora Birch, doing the exact same thing eight years earlier. (In an interesting but meaningless coincidence, both movies are 111 minutes long.)

The dialogue. Ugh. It makes the painful "This is one doodle that can't be un-did, Homeskillet" line from Juno seem like model of verisimilitude.

There was so little there that I'm having trouble coming up with anything to say, and I've refined navel gazing to an art form. Ellen Page was cute as a button. Alia Shawkat was characteristically awesome and managed to look like Sara Gilbert. Andrew Wilson was playing his brother Luke's character from the The Royal Tenenbaums. A post-menopausal Drew Barrymore was playing a twenty-something skater. I liked Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern as the parents. I can usually take or leave Jimmy Fallon, but I absolutely wanted to murder him after about thirty seconds here. Um...The skaters had amusing names.

Meh. I'm tired about writing about Whip It. I'm going to write about Ghost World instead.

Hmmm...why did I like Ghost World and not Whip It? I guess because Ghost World never talked down to me like Whip It did. As I get older, I find myself becoming more conservative about certain things, and "I lied about roller derby because I knew you wouldn't let me do it if I asked!" no longer strikes me as a particularly persuasive or sympathetic argument.

Jen never much liked Ghost World, but I love it. Scarlett Johansson was an actress before she was a movie star, if you care about the distinction, and this is my favorite role of hers ("Some people are ok, mostly I just feel like poisoning everybody."), but it's Thora Birch as Enid who really carries the movie.

She's snarky and detached, and she's doing the same things she's always done, and she can't understand why they aren't working for her anymore. Plus, it has one of my favorite lines.

Enid comes home. Her father calls her into the kitchen, and tells her that he's resumed dating Maxine, an ex-girlfriend of his whom Enid hates.

Maxine: It's really quite something to see you all grown-up like this, Enid. I'd love to know what you're doing now. I can't help but feel I had some small part in how you turned out. What are you studying? You were always such a smart little girl.

Enid: I'm taking a remedial high school art class for fuck-ups and retards.

Also, there's a great scene at the movie theater, when Enid is working the concession stand:

Customer: Hi, can I get a medium 7-Up?

Enid: ...Medium? Why sir, did you know that for a mere 25 cents more you can purchase a large beverage? And you know... I'm only telling you this because we're such good friends: Medium is really only for suckers who don't know the concept of value.

Not only is that funny, but she gets chewed out by her manager afterwards, and she looks ready to cry. She's really trying to make a go of it in the adult world, but she can't quite fit in, not without changing herself, and she's not willing to do that. She doesn't understand that by rebelling against the values of mainstream society, she's letting it define her as fully as if she had embraced them.

She seems to have full awareness of her own futile and self-destructive behaviors - even as she is engaging in them, but she can't imagine any other way to live her life until the very end, when she gets on the bus. It feels like she's earned, if not a happy ending, then at least her second chance.

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