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Originally published Thursday, October 1, 2009 at 3:02 PM

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Movie review

'Whip It' is heaven on wheels

Drew Barrymore's feature directing debut, "Whip It," is a charming coming-of-age tale. It stars Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristin Wiig and Drew Barrymore. A review by Seattle Times movie critic Moira Macdonald.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3 stars

'Whip It,' with Ellen Page, Marcia Gay Harden, Kristin Wiig, Drew Barrymore, Juliette Lewis, Jimmy Fallon, Alia Shawkat. Directed by Barrymore, from a screenplay by Shauna Cross. 111 minutes. Rated PG-13 for sexual content including crude dialogue, language and drug material. Several theaters; see Page XX.

The question: Can Drew Barrymore direct?

The answer: Yes, she can.

"Whip It," a coming-of-age-with-roller-derby tale that's Barrymore's feature directing debut, isn't going to vault her immediately to the top of the director A-list: It's a little overlong, and more than a little predictable. But it's also utterly endearing, charming its viewers in much the same sunny way as Barrymore's performances usually affect us. Teenage girls, in particular, will be drawn to this girl-power saga, and those who loved Ellen Page's sardonic deadpan in "Juno" will enjoy seeing her trying on a little more earnestness — and finding that it fits just right.

Page plays Bliss Cavendar, an unhappy teen who lives with her family in Bodeen, Texas, where nothing ever happens. Her mother (Marcia Gay Harden), a former beauty queen now delivering mail, urges her to compete in pageants, where awkward Bliss is hopelessly out of place. In Austin, Bliss finds what she didn't know she was looking for: a women's roller-derby team, where she quickly becomes a star player known as Babe Ruthless. But all this is a secret from her parents, and all comes to a head when the Big Game is scheduled for the same night as the big Bluebonnet Pageant.

Yes, you know exactly where this movie is going. But Barrymore and writer Shauna Cross give us plenty of reason to enjoy the journey, however familiar. "Whip It" is well cast, down to the smallest roles: Eulala Scheel (Harden's real-life daughter) beams adorably as Bliss' little sister, a pint-size pageant princess; Kristin Wiig is warm and appealing as the den mother of the team, Maggie Mayhem (her take on the line "My doctor said it was really common" is a scream); and Barrymore herself, playing the accident-prone Smashly Simpson, once again demonstrates her ability to be ridiculously cute, regardless of circumstance.

And Page, comfortable with carrying a movie on her small shoulders, creates a character very unlike Juno; she's smart and beautiful but doesn't know it, and "Whip It" is her slow awakening to her own potential. It just might be Barrymore's as well.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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