millennial review: Whip It

After viewing a sneak preview of Whip It last night as part of my Millennial Movie Mish-Mash, I wanted to expand yesterday’s quick review. For college ministers and others, this movie will both help us think about our Gen Y audience and provide some interesting discussion-starters, though in this case I’d guess it’s better for the former than the latter. So here’s my “millennial review” of Whip It from Fox Searchlight.

I grew to like Whip It more as the movie went along, and I also grew to like it more as I came to accept it as simply enjoyable. It’s not heavy fare – not as dramatic, for instance, as Juno, to which it will be compared not only because both star Ellen Page but also because of the Gen Y aim. And this movie seems almost purposely light on characterization and plot, but that creates an interesting experience where we encounter the characters and live the story right along with the protagonist.

So if anything, I really wanted more of this movie – including more time with various characters, more excitement, and even, as a guy, more hard-hitting roller derby action! But I was happy with what I got, and it was fun to notice the movie’s clear reflection of Millennial values and needs. There’s a lot here along those lines, whether purposeful or accidental; Director Drew Barrymore is, after all, not too far removed from being Millennial herself.

She also plays one of the many outstanding characters in this film. (They can of course be great characters even if we never learn a lot about them). Ellen Page (playing Bliss, the protagonist) is of course phenomenal, but so is the rest of the cast – which besides Drew herself (as a particularly violent derby girl) includes Kristen Wiig, Jimmy Fallon, and Alia Shawkat – all of whom have their own claim to Gen Y fandom. (I’ve particularly discussed Fallon’s mastery of Millennial methods.)

As for Gen Y themes, the three most noticeable in Whip It include ruthless pursuit of individuality, the pursuit of team, and a devotion to family.

When Bliss locates new heroes in the gals of Roller Derby, she’s challenged to “put on some skates and be your own hero” – a quite Millennial phrase that found its way onto the movie poster and the free T-shirt I got as I left last night. After (notably) being told that she must change her name to fit into the Roller Derby world, Bliss semi-transforms into “Babe Ruthless” – all part of a pageant circuit misfit locating – “ruthlessly” – who she really is.

Bliss is asked by classmates early on if she’s become “alternative or something,” as they note her somewhat Goth / Grunge appearance. Her response is, “Alternative to what?” – a quote I found phenomenally interesting. In the world of Generation Y, there’s not necessarily some sense of “standard” to which a person can be an alternative. With enough individuality (perceived or actual), everyone’s a minority of one, right?

But though Bliss strives to be her own hero, she finds out that goal won’t be reached alone. First, we clearly are shown that this whole identity business is best fleshed out in the context of a team. Even the trailer for Whip It encourages viewers to “Find your tribe,” and I’d argue that this phrase better captures the film than anything else. Team-ness and individuality prove not to be mutually exclusive after all; Bliss finds her spot within the “Hurl Scouts” because of the very fact that she does possess individual skills – like each of her oddly-fitting teammates.

But second, Bliss proves that one can err on the side of individuality, too, as she hurts people when her pursuits lean toward the selfish side. In fact, this movie actually uses that word – “selfish” – which sounds surprisingly foreign within today’s movie moralities.

So as Bliss makes her way into this new team, she learns that this doesn’t necessitate leaving behind natural family, no matter how difficult they can be. The movie’s most explicit lesson focuses there: “Just because you’ve found a new family doesn’t mean you throw the old one away.” Yes, like many Millennials, Bliss must struggle with a “helicopter parent,” and she clearly assumes she’s more “aware” of the world than her parents are. But throughout, the family is portrayed with realism and even optimism, not cynicism.

These are, of course, all reflections of Millennial attitudes. And like other Gen Y fare, the movie revels throughout in what is, not so much what should be or could be. In fact, in one of many revealing dialogues, Bliss makes it clear that she’s entirely comfortable living within a moment that’s only good-while-it-lasts – because, for now, it’s still good.

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Three more notes of interest:

If you want a good, normal movie review (instead of all this Millennial stuff), I especially like the review at Variety.

This movie is PG-13 for some fairly brief sexual content and dialogue, language, and some drug paraphernalia. Just so you know.

I found it quite enjoyable that a T-shirt featuring Christian heavy metal band Stryper plays a key role in this movie. Bliss even mentions the Christian nature of the band – while she is amused, there’s no real mocking there. While the shirt is clearly just a Millennial pseudo-nostalgia prop, it will no doubt introduce many to the group for the first time.

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Other posts discussing the Millennial Generation can be found here.

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