Sunday, August 8, 2010

Fiction to Film - Derby Girl / Whip It!

So it's been a while since I've done a Fiction to Film post. A long while in fact, seeing as the last one was on Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and came out before the whole Lindsay Lohan GetInLoserWe'reGoingToJail-2010 thing. Anyway, they're coming back as a semi-regular feature and hope you enjoy them! Feel free to leave me recommendations in the comments.

The Fiction
Title: Derby Girl (also later released as Whip It)
Author: Shauna Cross
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co
Length: 240 pages

Bliss Cavendar feels trapped in Bodeen, a small and apparently uncultured Texan town, where she’s stuck waiting tables for her vapid classmates and pushed in pageants by her former beauty queen mother. That is until she secretly joins the local roller derby league, transforming into Babe Ruthless, a kick-arse, fast-skating jammer on the track.

Derby Girl is a fun and sassy work of contemporary young adult fiction. Shauna Cross' debut novel brilliantly introduces us into the world of all-things derby, which for me is the biggest selling point of the story. Derby has a fantastic indie feel to it and has created a supportive community of strong, independent women. I'd struggle to explain the history and rules of derby so please check out this page for a general overview. Anyway, roller derby works brilliantly as a way for Bliss, who doesn't fit into the moulds of a teenage Southern Belle to explore her identity and find her own tribe of supportive women.

Did I mention there is also a cute bassist, sassy Arab-American best friend,  menial fast-food jobs, good music, shoplifting, swearing, and arch-roller-enemies? There's also quite a nice mother-daughter-relationship plotline that manages to have a lot of heart, without getting overly sappy and taking away from the rest of the sharp, snappy voice of the text. Whilst I had read this after already having seen the film, I couldn't stop thinking about how perfect the novel is for adaptation - the chapters are short and snappy, filled with a cast of quirky characters, insightful and funny narration and a game-structured story.

The Film
Director: Drew Barrymore
Screenwriter: Shauna Cross
Studio: Fox Searchlight
Release Date: October 2009
Cast: Ellen Page (Bliss Cavendar/Babe Ruthless), Marcia Gay Harden (Brooke Cavendar), Kristen Wiig (Maggie Mayhem), Juliette Lewis (Iron Maven)

I'm going to flat out say it that Whip It is one of the best book-to-film adaptations I have seen. Predominantly because the original text itself is so well suited for the film medium (and as author Shauna Cross comes from a screenwriting background and went on to write the screenplay for Whip It, that makes perfect sense).

So I'm going to try and give a detailed run-down of why Derby Girl made for such a good film:
Firstly, Bliss makes for a fantastic lead character. She's a bit of an outsider who feels trapped by her life in a hick-town, the daughter of a bossy ex-pagent queen and a passive furniture salesman. Now Bliss isn't your cookie-cutter kinda girl, she has a lot of spunk. Book Bliss has a very distinctive voice which really translates onto the screen through Ellen Page, who is perfect for the slight-but-sassy Bliss, with just the right mix of attitude and likeability.

I actually found Film Bliss to be more likeable than Book Bliss. Book Bliss, to me, sometimes came across as obnoxious and super-critical, particularly of her parents. Her attitude, especially on things like indie music and vintage clothing came across a bit alienating to the reader and the way she would, at times, treated her best friend Pash made me roll my eyes. Film Bliss is more toned down and Page plays her with determination and a nice hint of vulnerability.

The derby scenes of Whip It are just amazing. I feel like they definitely capture the spirit and excitement of roller derby (not to mention the bumps, bruises and bloods). As I mentioned above, I love the community, DIY, grassroots feel of the league and the games (sorry just checked the technical term - bouts) give the plot focus and structure. Drew Barrymore (in her directorial debut) does an incredible job at shooting derby with the style and importance of a classic sports film, but manages to maintain a sense of fun.

What also worked really well on-screen is the sense of sisterhood (without being an oestrogen love fest). Each of the Hurl Scouts are given a personality on film (the deaf but deadly Manson Sisters who were thrown out of the Women's Hockey League, a Whole Foods cashier and super-klutz Smashley Simpson). The film allows viewers to understand why Bliss is willing to deceive her family to play the sport she loves and spend time with such a kick-arse group of women.

For those interested, there's more discussion and photos under the cut, all of which is free from any major spoilers for both the novel and film version of Whip It!
Kristen Wiig as Maggie Mayhem

Malice in Wonderland from Derby Girl becomes Maggie Mayhem on screen - captain of the Hurl Scouts and mother-figure to Bliss. I thought Kristen was fantastic - not only does she prove to be an amazing skater, but also reminds us of her amazing comic timing.

Juliette Lewis as Iron Maven

Again, a bit of a name change from the books (Iron is Dinah Mite in Derby Girl) but she's still uber-tough and kind of scary. I have to say that a) I can't believe Juliette Lewis is 37!!! and b) she can play freaking-scary very, very well. In saying that, I do like that Whip It gave her a chance to defend herself and allows the audience to understand her reasoning behind such a hostile attitude.

Landon Pigg as Oliver

Hmmm, I found this to be one of the trickiest parts to write about. Landon makes his screen debut as Oliver, adorable bassist and love interest for Bliss. I'm on the fence on this one - I can see the appeal in Oliver (he's kind of shy, he's fun, he's in a band and is cute in an indie-guy-in-a-band way, which from the book is 100% Bliss' type) but what I like more is that the romance plotline comes second to the sport-family-identity one and that the audience isn't forced to swallow a happy ending for the sake of it.

Alia Shawkat as Pash

Argh, love her! Played Book Pash perfectly, just wish there was more of her!
Would also have loved to see more of Zoe Bell and Ari Graynor.

Marcia Gay Harden and Daniel Stern as Bliss' parents - Brooke and Earl Cavendar

I thought both parents were very well cast (though it took me a while to recognise Daniel Stern haha). Their adaptation is pretty much straight from the book (much of Brooke's dialogue is lifted straight out) but there was a few differences towards the end of the film between the book and film Brooke and Bliss relationship. Ultimately I think it's 'nicer' in the novel, but think that it plays out in a more realistic manner on screen.

Ok, now I've realised I'm basically writing an essay so I'll cut myself off now. Below is mostly pictures with quick comments for your viewing enjoyment. Overall I think Drew, Shauna and the rest of the creative team did a fantastic job with adapting Derby Girl for the screen.

This scene wasn't in the book but looked amazing and really worked on-screen.

I'm pretty much in love with this shot.

I ♥ you 'Hot Tub' Johnny Rocket!


food for silverfish said...

i soooo have to watch whip it!

Girl Friday said...

Would definetely recommend it! It made me want to dig out my roller skates haha

Andi B. Goode said...

I haven't read the book but I just watched the film and I LOVE IT. Sisterhood, awesome women, etc. All so good. And I agree about the romance - I'm glad it wasn't as important as the rest. So refreshing!
-Andi x

Girl Friday said...

Awww Andi, glad you enjoyed Whip It! I actually think it works better as a film than a book - and yay for kick-arse women and celebrating teenage girls who don't need a boyfriend to have an awesome sense of worth and confidence!

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