The roller derby community is super excited for the debut of the new roller derby movie, “Whip It,” directed by Drew Barrymore and adapted from Shauna Cross’s novel. The movie follows Bliss Cavender (Ellen Page, aka Juno) as she goes from unhappy pageant puppet to roller derby queen. Barrymore, SNL‘s Kristin Wiig, rapper-designer-actor Eve, and Juliette Lewis play other derby girls, and Jimmy Fallon steps in as the venue announcer. Daniel Stern and Marcia Gay Harden play Bliss’s parents. So far the reviews out of the Toronto Film Festival say it’s a fun flick, and Juliette Lewis steals the show.
If you’re an SVRG or other flat-track roller derby fan, you may be confused by the trailer: WTF? The biggest discrepancy here is that the Whip It version of derby is closer to its 1970s incarnation, where skating was done on a banked trank and slapstick violence was common (and often choreographed). Today, a flat track is more commonly used, and the fake-fighting has been replaced with a strict set of rules for hitting and other body contact. An analogy can be made here; old roller derby: new roller derby is like comparing professional wrestling, like the WWE, to Greco-Roman wrestling you see in the Olympics. While both require a level of athleticism and both can certainly incur vicious injuries, the former is characterized by a penchant for drama and crowd-pleasing antics, whereas the latter focuses on true athletic competition by the rules of the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association (WFTDA). Both, I assure you, are filled with their own share of thrills and spills.
So, for those of you who are wondering, here is my opinion, the Retox Fox frame-by-frame analysis of what’s true to our form of the sport and what’s Hollywood:
o:55 Witness the banked track. Although there are some banked track leagues in existence, the current incarnation of the sport is dominated by flat track leagues like SVRG. But, as Killer Vee notes below, author Shauna Cross is herself a banked track skater for the Los Angeles Derby Dolls, so that is what the text focused on. And, let’s face it, a banked track makes for cooler camera angles and more artistic tumbling. Interestingly, I’ve heard that contrary to expectations, it’s easier on your body and injuries aren’t as bad on the banked track compared to flat track (I would guess it’s because there is a natural momentum, and the physics at work make for predictable falling patterns.)
0:59 Someone throws an elbow (elbowing is illegal by WFTDA rules; also, no contact to face/neck permitted)
1:00 One player clotheslines another (illegal by WFTDA rules: no contact to the face/neck permitted; no hit may be initiated with the forearm or hands)
1:01 Blocking to the face/punching players (illegal by WFTDA rules)
1:02 Punching a player (illegal by WFTDA rules and will get you ejected in a heartbeat!)
On a side note, I would also point out that real derby women have a much wider range of shapes and sizes than are visible in the trailer. Although there are real derby women skating in this movie, casting choices were in part made on body size–so wannabe derby girls, take note: real roller derby doesn’t prejudice against big girls.
1:10 Bliss comments the last time she wore skates, they had Barbies on them. It’s true that many of us had not skated since childhood when we started playing derby! And like the Hurl Scouts, the Silcon Valley Roller Girls welcomes skaters of all levels to our next bootcamp, in your Barbie skates or otherwise (Oct. 29/Nov. 1, see here for more details!)
1:13-1:15 Bliss takes several falls. Falling unsafely and without grace happens until you get comfortable in your skates and get proper instruction on how to fall. In roller derby, some of your first skills are falling. You learn to avoid falling on your butt (falling forward allows you to brace yourself and protect your tailbone). You also learn to “fall small,” that is, to tuck in your limbs so you don’t trip other girls on the track.
1:21-1:26 Bliss skates in the street. In order to succeed in roller derby, you must put in a lot of hours skating on your own beyond practice, whether it be in parking lots, tennis courts, or at an indoor rink. Note, though, that it is advisable to use different wheels on rough outdoor surfaces (indoor wheels are often too slippery and can get messed up on the rough surface.) Also note that quad skates and derby wheels aren’t as flexible as rollerblades and may not be a pleasant ride on pavement and other seemingly-skatable surfaces.
1:27 Bliss does situps. Yes, yes, YES! You should engage in other forms of exercise outside of derby to keep your body strong and fit!
1:57 “I am in love with this!” Bliss yells passionately in an apparent argument with her folks. YES, WE ARE! And unfortunately, such conflicts with our loved ones aren’t that uncommon, because derby takes a LOT of time and devotion.
2:01-2:08 The Hurl Scouts party. Oh, yes, derby girls do like to have a good time. And some of us manage to score in swimming pools, too.
So, in summary: the flamboyant rule-breaking hits are ridiculous, but otherwise, at first glance, it looks like this movie is true to its aim as far as the heart and soul that is roller derby. Keep your eyes on the blog for our upcoming promotional events with the Whip It premiere October 2!