In Bodeen, Texas, Bliss (Page) is the rebellious teen daughter of a proud society mom (Harden) and a laid-back, beer-loving dad (Stern). Then with her best pal (Shawkat) she discovers the roller derby in Austin, where her surprisingly strong audition catches the notice of the coach (Wilson) as well as the stars (including accident-prone Barrymore, wacky Wiig, sassy Eve and tough-girl Bell). Renamed Babe Ruthless, she joins the Hurl Scouts team, discovering that some things are more important than beating their archrivals for the championship, the Holy Rollers (led by Lewis).
Deeply predictable on every level, the film is a hodgepodge of every emerging-teen cliche known to screenwriters. Plus all the girl-power ones.
Fortunately, Barrymore's first-time direction catches the spark of personality in all of the actors, who are good enough to make even the most familiar scenes both fresh and entertaining. And the skater stage names are terrific, from Eva Destruction to Jabba the Slut.
Page is especially good, inverting her usual type for a slightly rougher nice girl. She even manages to sustain the tired emo guitar-boy (Pigg) romance plotline, while conveying Bliss as a smart young woman who still does stupid teen things. We really lock into her character and travel this journey with her, which makes the requisite highs and lows feel honest and even moving. Her teammates are all great fun, and Harden, Wilson and Stern add depth to characters who start as stereotypes but become much more interesting.
Yes, there's also a serious theme in the mother-daughter relationship, which actually develops in ways we can't predict (although of course the big society ball and the championship roller derby are on the same night). But it's also great to see a film that knows how to work in a good food fight. And a rather sexy and cute underwater love scene. And the soundtrack is packed with great rock anthems, including Radiohead's rather too-on-the-nose No Surprises.
Run time: 111 mins
In Theaters: Friday 2nd October 2009
Box Office USA: $13.0M
Distributed by: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Production compaines: Mandate Pictures, Vincent Pictures
Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 84%
Fresh: 151 Rotten: 29
IMDB: 6.9 / 10
Director: Drew Barrymore
Screenwriter: Shauna Cross
Starring: Ellen Page as Bliss Cavendar, Drew Barrymore as Smashley Simpson, Sarah Habel as Corbi, Shannon Eagen as Amber, Kristen Wiig as Maggie Mayhem, Zoë Bell as Bloody Holly, Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven, Marcia Gay Harden as Brooke Cavendar, Jimmy Fallon as "Hot Tub" Johnny Rocket, Eve as Rosa Sparks, Daniel Stern as Earl Cavendar, Alia Shawkat as Pash, Har Mar Superstar as Fight Attendants Coach, Andrew Wilson as Razor