With her seductive and lightly anarchic directorial debut, Drew Barrymore strong arms her way into Austin via the roller-derby
4/5 (PG13) US Drew Barrymore With her seductive and lightly anarchic directorial debut, Drew Barrymore strong arms her way into Austin, Texas’s underground roller-derby scene to tell the familiar tale of an underdog’s rise to sporting eminence. The sport itself makes little sense to the casual onlooker (it’s female-only, full-contact and involves charging around an oval-shaped roller rink on skates and looking mean), but the film is saved by the sincerity of its tone and the richness and variety of its ensemble cast – from Juliette Lewis’s hotshot banshee Iron Maven to Kristen Wiig’s nurturing Maggie Mayhem and Barrymore’s borderline psychotic Smashley Simpson. And deftly moderating her patented eye-rolling poseur shtick, Ellen Page delivers her most charismatic and least divisive performance to date as Bliss Cavendar, aka Babe Ruthless.
Taken as a florid celebration of female solidarity, the film is commendable, if hardly radical. But in the final reel, following a sappy my-first-boyfriend subplot and much indie-rock name-dropping, the focus shifts to examine Bliss’s increasingly fractured relationship with her fusty parents and a more discerning and emotionally substantial film emerges. It’s a much needed oasis of quiet heartbreak amid the exhilarating cavalcade of sweaty roller girls, and a great first go-round for Barrymore.