2 Stars — Shallow

Although it’s a common experience for parents to impose their dreams upon their children, it creates unwelcome pressure and difficulty in the relationship. Whether it’s a pageant mom or a Little League dad, the predictable result is a frustrated child who must, at some point, courageously find his or her own voice. Told with a charm that matches both her personality and that of her leading character, Drew Barrymore’s Whip It! is such a tale.

Putting herself in a supporting role, Barrymore’s story was written by Shauna Cross and stars the appealing Ellen Page as Bliss Cavendar, aka Babe Ruthless. As the oldest daughter of Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) and Earl (Daniel Stern), Bliss has been forced to live out her mother’s dream of being a pageant queen. Compliant but unhappy, Bliss happens upon the subculture of roller derby. Opposite to the world of beauty pageants, roller derby becomes a perfect choice for this 17-year-old young woman to establish her own identity.

Assuming that her mother wouldn’t allow her to make such a choice, Bliss lies to her parents about where she is going and, with the support of her best friend Pash (Alia Shawkat), tries out for the weakest team in the league, the Hurl Scouts. She is a natural.

Although the film has some interesting derby moments, this is only a vehicle for Bliss’ exploration of the world. In her new world, she finds love, acceptance and herself. Love comes in the form of Oliver (Landon Pigg), the lead singer of a small rock band that is also a part of the derby culture. Their young love has all of the expected twists and turns of first loves.

Acceptance comes from the family of skaters who make up her team. Unexpectedly inclusive, Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), Smashley Simpson (Barrymore), Coach Razor (Andrew Wilson) and the other members of their team take this young woman under wing, teaching her about skating and life.

The predictable coming-of-age journey Bliss takes is more difficult because of the lack of wisdom of her parents and the absence of any spiritual values, transcendent wisdom or community of faith. That absence causes the film to approach life’s issues from a shallow perspective, which makes the tale lack depth in spite of its charm.

In the end, every child coming of age needs all the wisdom and faith humanity has been given. When that’s missing, it causes unnecessary growing pains for Bliss and for all of us who view the film.

Discussion:

» When Bliss falls for Oliver, she eventually decides to “give up everything,” as she expresses it. What do you think she means by that description? Do you think she should have continued their relationship?

» The competition between Bliss and Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis) includes unexpected respect. Do you believe their relationship would blossom into friendship?

» Did you ever experience your parents placing their dreams upon you to fulfill? How did you deal with it?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.