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.
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.
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.