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Copernicus wants to WHIP IT in Toronto!

I've seen some incredible stuff at the Toronto Film Festival this year, including new movies by The Coen Brothers, Pedro Almodovar, Jason Reitman, Michael Moore, and even the Palme d'Or winner, Michael Haneke's THE WHITE RIBBON. And yet, my favorite movie of the fest so far is WHIP IT, directed by Drew Barrymore in her first outing behind the lens. And judging from the frenzied crowd reaction at the world premiere in Toronto, I'm not alone. In fact, I was comparing notes with some friends after the screening, and the only film the group of us could all agree was a work of pure genius was WHIP IT. Many of the films at the fest have been innovative and important, but few can match the charm and spirit of this movie. It has a great story, a note-perfect perfect cast, and is expertly directed. The plot mixes familiar coming-of-age and sports drama storylines, yet still manages to feel fresh and original. The closest comparisons in recent years may be LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE and JUNO -- both were family comedies with heart by emerging talents, and each share at least one other element in common with WHIP IT, beauty pageants in the case of LITTLE MISS SUNSHINE, and Ellen Page as the quirky teen protagonist in the case of JUNO. Both went on to both box office and award success, and WHIP IT is sure to follow the same trajectory. The story, based on a novel and screenplay by Shauna Cross, follows Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), a teenager pressured into entering beauty pageants by her overbearing mother (Marcia Gay Harden). Bliss is a waitress at Barbeque joint in sleepy Bodeen, Texas, along with her best friend, Pash (Alia Shawkat, aka Maeby from Arrested Development). By chance, Bliss learns of a Roller Derby match happening in nearby Austin, and convinces her friend to go on a secret trip there where she meets Rollery Derby participants with names like Smashley Simpson and Bloody Holly, played by Drew Barrymore, Kristin Wiig, Juliette Lewis, Zoe Bell, and Eve. Before long, Bliss finds herself in a secret life as a member the Hurl Scouts, a hapless, but fun-loving team that can barely win a game. The impressive cast is rounded out by Daniel Stern, Bliss' lovable redneck father, Jimmy Fallon as the MC of the Roller Derby matches, and Landon Pigg as an indie rocker and love interest. A good bit of the film focuses on the Roller Derby competition, which keeps it unique, and the assembled actors have a great chemistry. But most of the drama centers on the relationships between Bliss and her family, her boyfriend, and her best friend Pash. At some point she has major clashes with each, and not all end as you might expect. My favorite city, Austin, is almost another character in the film -- the allure of its indie rock and offbeat culture is ever-present, pulling Bliss out of her provincial life into new realms of self-discovery. And ground zero for film geeks, the Alamo Drafthouse, even makes a cameo. In as much as DEATH PROOF and SLACKER are love letters to Austin, Drew Barrymore has managed in some ways to upstage Quentin Tarantino and Richard Linklater -- WHIP IT captures the essence of Austin without being showy or overindulgent about it -- she scarcely uses dialog or establishing shots to set the scene -- you can just feel the place though the mentality of the characters. Who knew that the up and coming director to watch this year would be Drew Barrymore? Holy shit -- she's the real deal. At the premiere she mentioned that she put her heart and soul into making this movie, and drew upon every bit of experience she had. It shows. In a sport where almost no one in the audience even knows the rules, she still manages some clever camera work and editing so that you always can follow the action and know what is going on. Michael Bay could take a few pointers. And love scenes are as old as cinema, yet Barrymore manages to deliver something fresh with a rocking underwater disrobing scene that is a revelation. She has a Tarantino-like gift for transporting the viewer through the use music that not only amplifies the mood of the scene, but evokes personal memories, specific to each viewer. The soundtrack gets a bit of roller-derby spirit from The Breeders and The Ramones, and a touch of country from Dolly Parton, but topping it off are some of my favorite indie acts like Clap Your Hands Say Yeah and Jens Lekman. Finally, the blooper-reel, freeze-frame closing credits are second only to THE HANGOVER in pure grin-inducing glee. In fact, the credits imply that there were many more scenes shot, that seemed like a blast, but were cut. My only complaint is that the cast is so perfectly offbeat, I wish I could have seen a bit more of the Derby girls' off-the-rink interactions. Ultimately though, Barrymore almost certainly made the right decision in putting the story first and only leaving in the material that furthers the plot. WHIP IT may not be as important as some of the other films I've seen so far at Toronto -- sure isn't isn't exploring the roots of Nazi Germany, how people handle death, or the problems of capitalism. But this isn't just pure popcorn either -- it has an empowering message for girls -- for many it may well be the most important movie for them. But for me it means the discovery of a new talent -- director Drew Barrymore, and I can't wait to see more. Copernicus

Readers Talkback
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  • Sept. 14, 2009, 10:53 a.m. CST

    I think it looks great...

    by PJoseph

    and who doesn't love Drew Barrymore... I'm glad it got some kudos.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 10:58 a.m. CST


    by Sierra_Rift

    And I think Drew could be a very capable Director. It sounds like she's finally proved it!

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 11:02 a.m. CST

    Genius = Most Abused Word In The English Language

    by zoothorn21

    You thought this was a work of genius? GENIUS? Jesus. Kubrick's a genius. Kurosawa's a genius.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 11:04 a.m. CST

    Planty McPlanterson of Plantsville

    by YackBacker

    Nice "review"

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 11:05 a.m. CST

    I'm in

    by HarryCalder

    The cast alone has me sold. Psyched.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 11:09 a.m. CST

    I kid, of course

    by YackBacker

    Copernicus is one of the older AICNers. But my god, your review is so glowing, I feel like I should buy you a pack of smokes or something to help you through this post-coital bliss.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 11:40 a.m. CST

    Idiana Mutt: The Curse of Horrid Acting

    by Snikkar124

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 11:41 a.m. CST

    seriously Indy 5 story almost ready according to Ford

    by Snikkar124

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 11:44 a.m. CST

    zoothorn 21

    by Dharma4

    No it isn't. If anything, EPIC is the most raped word in the English Language. "That's so epic!" "That's EPIC!" "So EPIC!" It's like GODDAMMIT anyway! Christ, people have truly lost the sense of what "epic" is. But I do kinda agree, "genius" is also abused.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 11:44 a.m. CST

    I'm glad to see that

    by detectivesoap

    she didn't make all the Derby girls hot (yet somehow stayed away from making them all look hit)...I fucked a Roller Derby girl once and it was a "how much hair can you pretend isn't there" contest. But I'm a pig. I think if I was 14 and female, this would probably be my watch again and again and memorize all the lines movie. It will do excellent on DVD, mark my words. And Roller Derby really does kick ass. I love how girl sports can be so intrinsically violent, men dare not play them for fear of mutilation. Or that the girls don't start a football team, it has to be fucking RUGBY. I fucked a girl on a female rugby team once and she was tough as shit. Manly as all get out too.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 11:57 a.m. CST

    How long does Drew need to fuck for that review?

    by EvilWizardGlick

    Man I've read the typical blowjob reviews here, but this one takes the cake. Drew must have loved him long time.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 11:59 a.m. CST

    I'm really looking forward to this

    by Spandau Belly

    I like cutesiepoo movies.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, noon CST

    detectivesoap, Dude missed the Austin Derby tv show eh

    by EvilWizardGlick

    A couple of years ago there was an Austin based Roller Derby Girls tv show. Some of them were quite hot. Punky Bruiser managed to snag a role in Death Proof. Waitress in the bar. I think she sat on QT's lap.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 12:01 p.m. CST

    Trust Me, Glick

    by Anton_Sirius

    If Copernicus had gotten so much as a wink from Drew, I would have heard about it by now.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 12:06 p.m. CST

    Looks like Michigan to me.

    by Big_Tab_Insertable

    I wish they would shot more than just a few exteriors here and given this town more work. It looks like a good film though.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 12:16 p.m. CST


    by zoothorn21

    Yes, of course - Epic! (with exclamation point) is right up there too. Its almost as overused as 'Dark'...

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 1:40 p.m. CST


    by Rebeck2

    It's called opinion, and everyone is free to have their own. Like, for instance, I think Kubrick was in many ways vastly overrated. Don't be so pretentious. There are a lot of popcorn films I would call genius ranging from THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE all the way to WHAT'S UP, DOC, and I'm sure you have some yourself - unless you're just a complete snob. Anyway, you haven't seen the damn movie yet. The Variety review was equally as ecstatic, so maybe you should close mouth, listen and wait.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 1:59 p.m. CST

    So if it's like Juno and LMS then it's overrated junk

    by IndustryKiller!

    Im pretty sure we've pretty much decided that Juno was one of the most embarrassing cinematic obsessions since Twister. Seriously no one thinks thats genuinely a good movie anymore, more like a guilty pleasure. one of the most dishonest films I've ever seen. LMS fares slightly better, but is still merely popcorn quirk with nothing actually to say.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 2:04 p.m. CST

    Drew Barrymore is awesome, I hope it's a big hit

    by felwithe

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 2:10 p.m. CST


    by Harold-Sherbort

    Underneath all the "honest to blog" bullshit dialogue, Juno was a good movie. Overrated? Yup. But not nearly as bad as some people have made it out to be, in my opinion. Little Miss Sunshine I couldn't get into though. Aside from Grandpa, Steve Carrels character and the vans horn problem, it didn't really work for me.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 2:26 p.m. CST

    The glow coming off this review does imply something more than a

    by duanejones

    But just going by the trailer alone, this looks like epic genius. Plus, I wish to be whipped by all the principals, albeit not Mr. Fallon, who can, let's face it, be cuter than Ms. Lewis. That surely includes the just-about-hot-finally Maeby Fünke.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 2:26 p.m. CST

    Can't Wait to See WHIP IT

    by ThusSpakeSpymunk

    It sounds smart, well-made, intelligent, funny, sincere and well-acted with a strong-cast. I also L-O-V-E going to roller derby (we've got a great team in Oregno where I live). This news that the movie sounds great, of course, means it won't be able to find a theatrical US distributor, and if it does get released in the US it'll make $7m and bomb. I FUCKING LOVE AMERICA! Spymunk's Prediction: OnDemand/Limited Theatrical of 11 theaters nationwide, followed by a DVD dump with no promotion.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 2:28 p.m. CST

    "reacharound..." concluded the title of my previous comment

    by duanejones

    Is storage space too costly for AICN that you have to truncate these titles so much? As my current favorite anti-Twitter t-shirt reads, I don't need 140 characters to say "Fuck you". The titles to my comments, on the other hand...

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 2:34 p.m. CST


    by ThusSpakeSpymunk

    I almost walked out of JUNO when I first saw it - the scene with Wilson was painfully phony. But once the story switched around to being about people other than Juno and Michael Cera (don't tell me his character had a name - he's Michael Cera; like Abbot and Costello, who always played Abbot and Costello even by name in their movies, I believe Michael Cera should just skip the formality and call every character he plays Michael or Michael Cera - come on, it'd be funny as hell!) it actually got really good, I think. Like, every time Juno was offscreen, and Jason Bateman and his wife were talking or doing stuff. THEN it was a good movie. It's mostly Juno's fault, which is why I refer to the actress as HARD CANDY no matter who she plays. We will also accept KITTY PRYDE as her name.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 2:57 p.m. CST

    most of it

    by hank quinlan

    wasnt shot in austin. although i guess you dont have to shoot somewhere to capture its essence. Just an austinite. I'll try it on cable. Won't get me out of the house. Wow, AICN is lame as hell these days though. No news. Some dull reviews. I only come for the talkbacks. But even those are drying up.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 3:19 p.m. CST

    Sounds like a Reality Show thing

    by lockesbrokenleg

    Another one of those weird Reality Show movie rip off things.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 4:16 p.m. CST

    A great adaptation of the book

    by hippolyta

    The film was scripted by a writer-by-day, derby-girl-by-night. It was very well directed and the cast was great. Zoe Bell was Uma Thurman's stunt double in Kill Bill and before that doubled Lucy Lawless in Xena. It's great to see her in her own roll for a change.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 4:34 p.m. CST


    by zoothorn21

    I think the Texas Chainsaw Massacre is genius too. There's genius in The Thing and Robocop. Genius doesn't respect genre or 'highbrow' for me either - if a film is made with genius then that's what it is. Its honestly not to do with being a snob - its just that the word is bandied around too much and loses its value. When I came out of Drag Me To Hell, honestly, I'd had so much fun with that film - but then I'll watch something like Seven Samurai, and its funny and sad and romantic and so exciting and just literally unbelievably well-made, the composition of every shot and the editing and the performances are all so perfect...and you suddenly realise that you've seen some genius. I'm more than happy to anticipate that Whip It will be a great fun movie, but this insane devalues the truly great stuff when it does come along. I'm not being pretentious, just passionate.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 4:57 p.m. CST

    little miss sunshine and juno?

    by mynemaborat

    count me out thanks

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 5:05 p.m. CST

    The trailer is great...

    by Zardoz

    I hope the finished film is as good as you say it is! As to LMS and Juno, sure they were over-hyped, and not perfect films by any means, but they were highly original and entertaining and certainly better than most of the crap that gets shoved down our collective throats. I love how we all bitch about how all Hollywood does is make the same bullshit, "cookie-cutter" and paint-by-numbers remakes and sequels, but when someone DOES make an interesting and original film we shit all over it! I'm just saying...

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 5:44 p.m. CST


    by Rebeck2

    Fair enough, and very well said. I can't disagree with that.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 7:29 p.m. CST

    Work of Genius?

    by Jawa 007

    Hey, it looks entertaining and cute, but work of genius?

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 8:28 p.m. CST

    one more time: I used to date a derby girl

    by mortsleam

    Loved when she walked around in knee high striped socks and hot pants. Hated that she burped and farted during sex.

  • Sept. 14, 2009, 11:55 p.m. CST

    With a review like that..

    by MacReady452

    it must be good. Yeah right. Austin love(aimed at AICN). "It's Juno and Little Miss Sunshine"..publicist/agent speak. She's a female Tarantino? Holy Shit. I'll see it eventually but this reads like such a snow job. Copernicus may have done this movie a great disservice cause it makes me NOT want to see this. I really hope Drew is this great. If nothing else she has literally grown up on a movie set so she would have to be a complete retard to not know how to make a competent movie. Best of luck dear. See you on the rental rack.

  • Sept. 15, 2009, 10:24 a.m. CST

    you guys have it all wrong.

    by hippolyta

    If anything, he wrote a glowing review in order to woo Drew into bed, not because she's already coerced him. Might as well go see the film and judge for yourself but I really think there's something for everyone in it.

  • Sept. 15, 2009, 3:58 p.m. CST

    little miss sunshine had some big problems

    by punto

    script-wise which ruined it for me. but I'm but unlike LMS (and juno) I actually care about this one

  • Sept. 15, 2009, 8:36 p.m. CST

    Austin or Michigan?

    by theBigE

    yeah - someone beat me to it - but they did film it here in Michigan, not Texas. Payback for Robocop being filmed in Houston, not Detroit!