Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page) has grown unhappy with small-town Texas life of Friday night football and beauty pageant competition, the football championed by her father Earl (Daniel Stern) and the pageants by her mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden). She commiserates with her best friend and fellow waitress, Pash (Alia Shawkat). During a shopping trip to Austin, Bliss picks up a flyer for a Roller Derby event. Maybe this is her way out . . .
Review by Louise Keller:
This is not one of Drew Barrymore's shining moments. As her directorial debut, it's a disappointment: the directing is lack lustre and the all important roller derby scenes which should be filled with tension and excitement border on tedium. As for her taking on a role as one of the tattooed, tough she-males rolling around the arena with rainbow hair and a bare midriff, she should have had better sense. To date, as an actress and producer, Barrymore has made some excellent choices and has always seemed to have a gut instinct for what works. Until now. The saving grace of the film is the disarmingly appealing Ellen Page who escapes unscathed. Page has a lovely screen presence - so natural, vulnerable and likeable. Marcia Gay Harden too, is able to crunch our emotions whatever the role, and here, she plays the blinkered mother whose passion is beauty pageants but is oblivious to her daughter's aversion for them.
The screenplay, adapted by Shauna Cross from her novel canvasses several elements. There's the 'I can do it' theme as Ellen Page's nerdy bespectacled Bliss Cavendar discovers she can succeed where she never thought she would, finding self-belief among a team of rough and tough women who are 'lean, mean skating machines'. It's a coming of age for Bliss, who works as a waitress in The Oink Joint (a diner with a giant pig on its roof) with her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat), when not at school. They live in the tiny county of Bodeen, which rhymes with Dolly Parton's 70s song Jolene, and which the girls sing (with amended lyrics) in desperation as they express their desire to escape. Oh yes, The Oint Joint also offers a free meal for anyone who can consume the humungous 'The Squealer' in less than 3 minutes. Don't ask.
When Bliss 'discovers' the roller derby, tries out (with her Barbie skates) and is accepted, her life changes, like her name, which becomes Babe Ruthless ('I need you to be ruthless,' says the coach.) There are altercations with Juliette Lewis' Iron Maven (Lewis is terrific) and Drew Barrymore's Smashley Simpson constantly gets pummelled on the track. It's Bliss's newfound notoriety that brings her to the attention of musician Landon Pigg's band member Oliver (his acting debut), and there are some sweet moments of romance as they get to know each other. Jimmy Fallon as 'Hot Tub' Johnny Rocket brings his own style of charm (or lack of it) and I like Daniel Stern as Bliss's football loving dad. The relationship between Bliss and Pash is nicely presented but most successful is the emotional journey between mother and daughter, which Page and Harden delivers beautifully.
But the film falls down as dramatically as the lean-mean skating machines when they unceremoniously are dumped and crash on the concrete arena.
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CAST: Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Daniel Stern, Jimmy Fallon, Sarah Habel, Shannon Eagen, Edward Austin Austin, Mary Callaghan Lynch, Alia Shawkat,
PRODUCER: Barry Mendel
DIRECTOR: Drew Barrymore
SCRIPT: Shauna Cross (novel by Shauna Cross)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Robert Yeoman
EDITOR: Dylan Tichenor
MUSIC: The Section Quartet
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Kevin Kavanaugh
RUNNING TIME: 111 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: October 8, 2009