By: Clara Bee Lavery
There’s nothing quite like an underdog movie, and for decades, fans of sports and action have had these in spades: in 1976 there was Avildsen’s Rocky, then The Karate Kid in 1984. A decade later, cinema-goers were given Rudy. This year, we’re getting Whip It, the directorial debut of – yes, you’re reading this right – Drew Barrymore. And it’s quite possible that Whip It, slotted for release on October 2, is the defining underdog movie for women of our generation.
Whip It brings several unique factors to the tried-and-true underdog yarn: First of all, our sports hero is a young woman trying desperately to escape her mother’s (Marcia Gay Harden) regime of the beauty pageant circuit. Secondly, her sport is roller derby – essentially, the physical intensity of rugby, but with roller skates and snappy outfits thrown into the mix. Third, she’s a nerd stuck in a small town she feels too big for.
Unlike many underdog movies, Bliss (Ellen Page) does not go the predicted route: Hero sees sport-of-choice in action, inexplicably becomes gifted with insane natural talent, then skips town in search of fame and fortune. What’s refreshing about Whip It is that Bliss, well, kinda sucks at first. This movie is about more than just a girl kicking butt and escaping her parentally-plotted beauty-pageant destiny. It’s about being able to accomplish something that’s new and scary. Bliss doesn’t just lace up her skates and become Derby Queen of Texas – she must first carefully plot late-night practices, stumble and fall countless times, and enlist the help of her best friend (Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat).
Bliss is not an overnight success, and that’s what ultimately makes her victory so sweet. As women – and, more specifically, as feminists – we’re constantly busting our butts to achieve our dreams. We metaphorically (and historically) have fallen on our faces many times and there are plenty of daunting roadblocks for us to jump over. We haven’t always landed on our feet. The lives we enjoy as women are often hard-earned. That’s why, when we come through and win the belt and the title, we’re so stoked about it. Whip It harnesses the fierceness and energy of women valiantly struggling to do what they want, how they want it.