POSTED May 13 2012

Mother’s Day Pick: Whip It!

Marcia Gay Harden, pageant queen, hugging Ellen Page, rollery-derby princess, in "Whip It!"

You might not think of Whip It!,  Drew Barrymore’s debut feature about roller-derby babes, those hellions-on-wheels who dare guys to ogle them, as an ideal choice for Mother’s Day, but I hereby nominate Shauna Cross’ coming-of-age story as the best mother/daughter picture of the past decade.

It has two mother/child relationships, the central one between Texas teenager Bliss Cavendar (Ellen Page), a tomboy ambivalent about the attempts of her mother (Marcia Gay Harden), to push her into the beauty pageant world, and a subsidiary one between derby chick Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), a single mom with a young son.

More intimately than most in Hollywood, Barrymore knows how few female types there are on screen. Beyond the good girl and the bad girl (movie versions of the madonna and the whore), there are millions of square pegs. Barrymore puts faces and gives backstories to these nonconformists trying to define themselves before others define them. The chief appeal of the film is to watch Bliss, misfit among angelic pageant girls, emerge as derby devil Babe Ruthless – sensitive, combative, girly, butch, timid, and fearless – whisking conflicting femininities into one tasty serving. Bliss’ Mom, Brooke, a hard-working postal worker who moonlights as an ultra feminine  pageant queen, is much like her daughter, balancing daytime obligations with a nocturnal dream life. Bliss sees her own mother as an unfair demander and taskmaster until she sees motherhood through the eyes of Wiig and comes to recognize that setting boundaries is not the behavior of jailer to prisoner but an expression of maternal love.

Even more touching than an important scene in which Bliss and her estranged mother sit on the kitchen floor and patch up a quarrel is the penultimate where Brooke finds an undelivered speech that Bliss wrote that turns out to be the most moving mother’s day greeting you can imagine. And by the way, the father/daughter relationship between Bliss and Dad Randy Quaid is equally fine. Barrymore (who has a small role in the film) strikes the perfect tone of for the perfect Momday movie.

Your Mother’s Day movie picks?



  1. Joe says:

    Easy. The original “So Big” with Barbara Stanwyck

  2. Debbie R says:

    Strangely, the film that makes me think about motherhood is The Piano.
    And the film that makes me think about parental love is Billy Elliot.
    Happy Mothers Day.

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