Bliss Cavendar loathes the mundane lifestyle of her hometown Bodeen, Texas. Her mom pushes her into beauty pageants and she waitresses at a roadside barbecue joint, but she’d rather be living it up in the Austin music scene with her best friend Pash Amini. When she grabs a roller derby flyer on a rare shopping trip to Austin, Bliss drags Pash along for an exhibition bout. She can’t resist the allure of the derby, so she pulls out her Barbie roller skates and sneaks down to Austin and lies about her age for tryouts. Turns out, she’s pretty good. And so begins life as a Hurl Scout and with it come the bruises, the parties, and a hot musician boyfriend. But her newfound passion puts a strain on her relationships with her parents and Pash and Bliss has to figure out a way to make it all work.
The trailer for Whip It drew me in, hook, line, and sinker. Rocking music, roller derby, lots of girl power, and some of the hippest actresses around? Yes, please. Oh, and it’s based on a YA book, Derby Girl. Bonus! Shauna Cross, the writer behind the 2007 novel and the movie’s screenplay, based the story on her experiences with roller derby (she’s the real Maggie Mayhem) and set the story in her hometown of Austin, Texas. According to a Variety interview, she shopped the book and screenplay simultaneously and both were sold quickly. Friend and fellow YA author Kirsten Smith (The Geography of Girlhood) served as an executive producer on the Drew Barrymore-backed film.
I saw the movie before reading the book. Despite a few minor issues, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The music did indeed rock, there was plenty of roller derby, it had a girl-positive message, and the performances were spot on. Ellen Page could have played Bliss with a little more edge, but despite some early misgivings I had about her playing another Juno-esque character, she really pulled it off. And I’ll watch Alia Shawkat and Kristen Wiig in anything and they both definitely shined here. It’s too bad Drew Barrymore, Eve, and Ari Graynor were under-utilized.
The movie follows the book almost exactly, so reading the book after seeing the movie was like seeing it again. The main difference was the amount of roller derby. In the book, the bouts are mentioned, but largely glossed over. This makes sense, of course, since reading a description of a sporting event is never very exciting. The movie has the audio-visual advantage on this point, and does a much better job explaining the sport and building up the tension between teams. I even wish the matches had been longer!
To the book’s advantage, though, is the first person narration by Bliss. Reading the events unfold from her perspective as opposed to watching them gives a lot more insight into her motivations and deepens some of the relationships. Book Bliss is a bit rougher than Movie Bliss — she shoplifts, for one — but I better understood and empathized with her interactions with her mom, Pash, and bad-boy Oliver.
Overall, I would recommend both the book and the movie, especially to teenage and 20-something girls. It’s too bad the movie hasn’t done very well at the box office, but I think it will find the right audience and will likely do well on DVD.
Double X thinks the movie missed the real heart and soul of roller derby and presents a primer on the sport and its post-punk, indie appeal.
Dodai from Jezebel wonders why the movie did poorly at the box office even though she loved it.
Bookworm 4 Life reflects on her love of derby and how she saved Derby Girl from her library’s inactives list.
YPulse uses Whip It as point of discussion on why teen girls rebel against their parents.
Rollergirl: Totally True Tales from the Track by Melissa Joulwan
A&E reality series Rollergirls
Derby Roster, a list of amateur derby leagues around the world. Invite some derby girls to give a presentation and demonstration at your library.
Derby Nation, a social network for derby girls and fans
Fracture Magazine, a content-packed online mag devoted to roller derby
International Rollergirls’ Master Roster — make sure your favorite roller derby name isn’t taken or just take a look at the thousands of registered names
And don’t forget to take a look at the movie’s Official Site for behind the scenes content!
You can also check out Landon Pigg’s website. He played Oliver in the movie and provided some of the film’s music.
Book Bliss focuses a lot more on music than Movie Bliss, so I compiled a list of all the artists and songs mentioned in the book. I especially love that one of my favorite bands, Voxtrot, was name-dropped. They’re from Austin, so it makes sense.
- White Stripes
- Hot Hot Heat
- Ramones “Rock and Roll High School”
- Velvet Underground and Nico “I’ll Be Your Mirror”
- Be Your Own Pet
- early Rolling Stones
- Dead Boys
- Bright Eyes
- Weezer “Why Bother?”
- Bob Dylan Highway 61 Revisited
- Killers “Mr. Brightside”