I’m okay with Katy Perry and Rihanna being buddies. I’m just gonna let it go like Andrea Plaid allowed Rihanna’s “S&M” video to circulate without clutching her pearls.
While I bristle at the idea that Perry allegedly wanted Ms. Fenty to serve as adult entertainment at her bachelorette party, I liked their connection ever since I saw those photos of the pair vacationing after Rihanna split with Chris Brown. I’m happy when any two female celebrities have a long-standing friendship. It’s why I like that Ellen Page and Alia Shawkat found each other, even if I reserve the right to hate on that TV series they pitched about crafty hipsters who relocate to Los Angeles. Female professionals should stick together. Work, both within and outside of the celebrity fishbowl, is a boys’ club. Solidarity is better than, you know, laughing at Britney while she snorts your cocaine or fighting over Wilmer Valderrama. Remember those dark days? Lohan forever.
I’ve made my feelings known about Perry. I’ve also been a die-hard Rihanna fan since “Pon de Replay” entered into heavy rotation. Hipster cred aside, Rihanna has had a phenomenal five-year run. Britney Spears released her first greatest hits compilation at that point in her career and Greatest Hits: My Prerogative and there’s some definite padding after “Toxic” and “I’m a Slave 4 U”. If Rihanna were to follow suit, there’d hardly be a slouch in the bunch. I only hope some Rated R cuts make it in.
By the way, I don’t mean any disrespect toward Britney’s inaugural best-of, especially since it includes “Do Somethin'”. I also believe that Britney released her best album to date in 2007. Blackout would be noteworthy for Robyn’s vocal work alone. But I’m with Rob Sheffield–it may be the most influential pop record of recent memory.
However, Perry and Rihanna’s friendship makes me think about my preferences. The majority of white feminists roundly dismissed Perry. Yet many of us praise Rihanna. Some of this might be weird hair envy, but a lot of our admiration stems from knowing she’s a survivor. We may read that into her music. But on the surface, Perry and Rihanna have a bit in common. Both are limited singers who have smartly aligned themselves with skillful producers who can craft a mean dance-pop gem. They also foreground their sexuality in somewhat conventional ways.
For me, the two diverge by how they construct their sexuality. Perry’s femme camp feels disingenuous, like she’ll only dance at the gay bars long enough to project footage from her wedding onto the train of her dress. Her conceptualization of female sexuality is ultimately passive, heteronormative, and shot through with regressive double standards. But Rihanna seems to draw strength from her sexuality, usually making demands and taking action instead of batting her eyelashes and letting the boys call the shots. Maybe they’ll come together on some future project. Here’s hoping they remember to recruit Britney and Nicki Minaj.
When I saw Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World a few nights ago, my first thought was “man, someday I gotta get back in graduate school. If I were working on a dissertation, it could write itself. Throw in Michael Hirschorn’s ‘Quirked Around‘ essay and James McDowell’s ‘Notes on Quirky‘ piece on top of all the other stuff I’ve read about film, feminist media studies, and music culture and be done with it.”
My friend Erik put it differently, but in a more succinct fashion: “it’s nice when they make a movie for me.” A stylish adaptation of a cult comic book series about a young guy who plays bass in a band called Sex-Bob-Omb and has to fight seven exes arcade-style to win the affections of a girl he likes speaks to a lot of people I know.
This comment interested me. After the screening, my friends and I were talking about our thoughts, which slid into a some musings on how the movie isn’t raking it in at the box office. However, we left a packed audience at the Alamo Drafthouse. Recently, there have been a rash of quirky indie-friendly movies about hip white young people falling in love and/or finding themselves that I was surprised weren’t making piles of cash given how popular they were in Austin (see also Whip It!, Adventureland, and (500) Days of Summer, but note that Scott Pilgrim was released through Universal instead of Fox Searchlight).
Like desultory twentysomethings, this is hardly a new phenomena. “Cool” cities feed on desultory twentysomethings’ disposable income. Austin has a thriving film community, a varied music scene, and a substantial population of amateur and professional pop culture enthusiasts. Nonetheless, I do think looking at the box office activity of certain cities in relation to gross revenue is an area worth pursuing.
I especially wonder what a bunch of Southern post-grads share with like-minded peers in Toronto. Are we just watching ourselves on screen? And if so, are our daily routines and heterosexual courtship rituals boring whether or not the people in them listen to indie rock or play in bands or fight like arcade avatars with something to prove? God, we’re probably as annoying as mugging hipster celebrities.
This may be a depressing thought, and one I’ll continue to wrestle with until more like-minded productions challenge heterosexuality and music fandom. By my estimate, none of the movies I listed do, including Scott Pilgrim. I wouldn’t even wager that they recontextualize the soundtrack as an ansillary product.
As John Caldwell discusses in “Critical Industrial Practice: Branding, Repurposing, and the Migratory Patterns of Industrial Texts,” these byproducts indicate how what he refers to as “critical textual practices” help cultural industry professionals consolidate political and economic power by intervening in cultural formation of media’s significance in that process. Extrapolating this concept for his argument about the use of heavy metal in contemporary horror movies, Joseph Tompkins argues “that film music functions not only as a cross-promotional medium for marketing movies and licensed recordings, but also as a key site for effectively managing and containing processes of consumption (Tompkins 2009, p. 68).” Hence the employment of Beck and lauded producer Nigel Godrich in the architecture of Scott Pilgrim‘s soundtrack, which is just as critical to the movie’s production and reception as the casting and directing.
Indeed, it’s nice when they make a movie for me, even if I’ve been engineered toward this response.
Here are my thoughts. First the good stuff:
1. By my estimate, director Edgar Wright pulled off the comic’s style without making it insufferable. As the series modeled itself after manga and 8-bit arcade game graphics and juxtaposed the quotidian daily lives of its characters with a manic tone, this is no small feat. This could’ve been a precious movie on a level surpassing Juno and (500) Days‘ quirk, but I feel it remained grounded by solid performances and Wright’s control. Yes, sometimes this meant that entire passages of the series were lifted for the movie. But it remained faithful to the source material while using a different medium to enhance the storytelling.
1A. The fight scenes were pretty good. Since I know Hot Fuzz is awesome, I wasn’t so worried about Wright this pulling this off. That said, Wright did a good job incorporating his directing style into the action sequences. After listening to Jody Rosen, Dana Stevens, and June Thomas discuss Sylvester Stallone’s lethargic direction on The Expendables on Culture Gabfest, I remembered the importance of the director — along with the cinematographer and editor — to establish the pacing and framing of action sequences for maximum effect.
2. Michael Cera did a good job. I was concerned about this casting decision, as Pilgrim is cowardly, impulsive, juvenile, giddy, thoughtlessly cruel, but somehow also charming. If he were younger, I believe Vince Kartheiser — who demonstrates many of these traits in a different fashion as Mad Men‘s Pete Campbell — would have been great in the role.
Cera’s screen persona tends to be defined by reticence, discomfort, displays of grave maturity that belie his age, and being put upon. Scott Pilgrim is supposed to be relentlessly youthful. Cera looks like he’s lived through 45 years of other people’s bullshit. But Cera struck a competent balance between how he’s defined himself and what’s expected of the role.
3. The comic is largely defined by its supporting cast. Likewise, Chris Evans, Jason Schwartzman, Anna Kendrick, Aubrey Plaza, and Kieran Culkin are great in their roles. Credit casting director Allison Jones, who’s been responsible for creating several great ensembles. One interesting credit is Parks and Recreation, a show that substantially increased Plaza’s profile.
And now my issues.
1. The movie ends differently than the series, which makes more sense and is considerably more satisfying. In the movie, Pilgrim and ex-girlfriend Knives Chau (Ellen Wong) band together to defeat Pilgrim’s girlfriend Ramona V. Flowers’s seventh evil ex, Gideon Gordon Graves, a weasely venue owner and tastemaker. This was potentially a remnant from the movie’s original ending, which had Pilgrim reconcile with the underaged Chau. In the series’ sixth volume, Pilgrim and Flowers battle Graves. This makes their ultimate reconcilation feel earned, and also serves as an indication that Flowers is kind of a bad-ass. In the movie, however, Mary Elizabeth Winstead plays her as a saturnine pixie dream girl, her arms permanently folded and her mouth always formed into a pout. This brings us to my second issue . . .
2. The female characters are much more interesting in the books. As I mentioned in a previous post, Sex Bob-Omb drummer Kim Pine is my favorite character in the entire series. She’s smart, loyal, talented, resourceful, and unimpressed. She’s also the person who both Pilgrim and Flowers confide in. Here, Alison Pill and the script render her as a lobotomized Ellen Page, only able to play the drums and deliver a pointed quip in deadpan.
Brie Larson plays Envy Adams, one of Pilgrim’s exes who becomes a successful pop star. In volume 3, we learn that Natalie V. Adams is devastated by super-cool Pilgrim’s kiss-off, and reinvents herself largely out of revenge. In doing so, parallels are drawn between Adams and Chau, as well as between Pilgrim and Flowers’ treatment of former lovers. This is barely acknowledged in the movie, yet one of the more interesting aspects of the series.
In short, the female characters in the movie are subordinant and passive. This may have trickled into its marketing, best illustrated by the limits of the Scott Pilgrim Avatar Creator. Mine is below, but the folks at Paste created some interesting celebrity avatars.
3. Oh, how troublesome difference is here. Race relations are strained. This was actually a problem I noticed in the series. For one, appropriating manga to tell the story of two straight white people falling in love is awkward enough on its own. For another, having Chau be a Chinese Canadian high school student seems to infantilize women and girls of East Asian descent.
In addition, three of Flowers’s exes are men of color. The first is Matthew Patel (Satya Bhabha), who actually performs a Bollywood-inspired musical number during his battle with Pilgrim. The other two are musical twins Kyle and Ken Katayanagi (Shota and Keita Saito), who only appear in a battle of the bands sequence and have no dialogue. So much for inclusion.
Homosexuality is sidelined as well. Pilgrim’s roommate Wallace Wells (Culkin) is somewhat developed and well-played, but a minor character. Flowers’s ex Roxie Richter (Mae Whitman) is represented as crazy and bitter and identifies as a lesbian. Flowers — like Summer Finn before her — dismisses their time together as merely a phase before helping Pilgrim finish her off.
But I still liked it. As summer popcorn movies go, I certainly enjoyed it more than Inception or Salt. It wasn’t exactly what I’d hoped and it won’t beat The Expendables, which is making a killing at the box office. But perhaps Pilgrim‘s disappointing returns best prove that it’s a movie made for me. But arguing about it potentially suggests my resistence toward having my consumption managed and contained.
I finally saw Christopher Nolan’s Inception at the Drafthouse last weekend. I intended to view it at the IMAX where I caught a midnight screening of The Dark Knight, which preceded an ill-timed traffic jam on the upper deck of I-35. Fresh from witnessing Heath Ledger’s terrifying performance as the Joker, I feared imminent doom. Luckily, the bottleneck was caused by a minor car accident that left both parties unharmed.
But as I filed in for Friday’s 10:30 showing, I wondered if the movie would live up to its colossal hype. Nolan’s reputation looms over each of his productions, and his mastery of filmic slight of hand promised that, if Inception wasn’t in Memento‘s league, it might still keep good company with The Prestige. A month following its auspicious box office debut, I had my suspicions. The movie is about extractor Dom Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio) leading a team who implant the idea that heir Robert Michael Fischer (Cillian Murphy) cede from the empire built by his mogul father Maurice (Pete Postlethwaite). The squad is employed by businessman Saito (Ken Wantanabe), who represents its chief competitor. Dana Stevens’s tentative write-up was my first alarm, as was the Oscar buzz generated amongst fanboys that Snarky’s Machine noted in her review.
Nonetheless, I was intrigued. Caitlin at Dark Room raved about it, arguing that it bested The Matrix. Pioneer film theorists David Bordwell and Kristin Thompson cataloged many of the movie’s intriguing ideas. Capitalizing on the fervent anticipation of Mad Men‘s fourth season, Pop Watch noted that Inception is essentially telling the same story as AMC’s flagship melodrama (the post also linked to Michael Newman’s blog entry about how the series functions as an allegory for Matthew Weiner’s anxieties over the creative process).
But after all that chatter, what did I think about Inception? Eh. It was okay. The visuals were captivating and the storyline was relatively accessible. I think it’s more of an interesting movie to talk about than watch, though the 140 minutes flew by more briskly than I had anticipated.
I had reservations about Ellen Page playing an architect named Ariadne, but I bought her as a grad student whose speech never overshadows her fancy kerchiefs. Her scenes with mastermind Cobb lack air, but that’s just as much DiCaprio’s fault. Their characters display an intimate connection. Ariande feels comfortable enough with Cobb to utter the movie’s most overtly feminist line when asking of his inability to let go of his wife’s death “Do you think you can create a prison of memories to lock her in? Do you think that’s going to contain her?” But both overuse a knit brow to connote a wellspring of emotion while conveying very little. Though I concur with Stevens on preferring DiCaprio in lighter fare over attempts at Serious Acting, a Nolan picture tends to ensure labored acting.
Joseph Gordon Levitt has moments as point man Arthur, particularly in the breath-taking zero gravity sequence. Saito and chemist Yusef (Dileep Rao) are given little to do beyond step out of the spotlight for the all-white principal cast. The only person clearly having a good time is forger Eames, who extracts information by convincingly becoming other people, including a flirty blonde who chats up Fischer. Tom Hardy mines the role’s seductive and queer camp potential, purring like a naughty cat who licked up all the cream.
Caitlin believed the main plot of engineering familial and corporate breach to be predictable, but I found its B-story to be its most obvious flaw. Cobb cannot shake the spectre of his dead wife Mal (Marion Cotillard), whose name literally means “bad” in her native French. Mal isn’t so much a psychologically damaged woman whose destructive actions in Cobb’s unconscious contrast with her sweet nature in life. Rather, she plays as a manifestation of feminist film theory’s complaints against cinema’s conception of women and its applications of psychoanalytic thought via the scopophilic gaze. Cotillard does what she can with the role, but it feels like she’s representing, say, Tania Modeleski’s criticisms in The Women Who Knew Too Much: Hitchcock and Feminist Theory. This may have been Nolan’s intention, but by rendering Mal as an archetypical femme fatale who Cobb must overcome, he only enforces the notion that female movie characters are not fully realized as complex people but instead mere ideations from the auteur’s mind.
That said, I do find the employment of Édith Piaf’s “Non, je ne regrette rien” to be particularly fascinating. It remains one of Piaf’s best-known tunes. Though she reportedly dedicated her 1960 recording to the French Foreign Legion during the Algerian War, the song is now thought of as a reflection on the singer’s dramatic biography, akin to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way.” It is also Inception‘s unofficial theme. Nolan continually referred to it when writing the script and hoped to put it in the movie. It serves as the squad’s alarm clock, bringing them back to consciousness following a mission and implying the emotional objectivity required in the work of hampering with other people’s dreams. Composer Hans Zimmer also threaded the song’s cadence throughout his overbearing score.
For me, it is also evidence that Cobb is still haunted by his wife. The song hails Mal’s French heritage, as well as her fearless break with reality. The song’s literal meaning can be read against Cobb’s feelings of regret and culpability toward the death of his wife. It also telegraphs Cotillard. In 2008, Cotillard won the Academy Award for Best Actress. She portrayed Piaf in Olivier Dahan’s La vie en rose, beating out Ellen Page in her titular performance in Juno and putting her in America’s A-list. Apparently Cotillard’s involvement in Inception was a happy accident. Initially after the actress was cast, Nolan intended to pick another song but Zimmer convinced him that the connection wouldn’t distract viewers. In doing so, however, it provided this viewer an infinite loop of interpretation.
Hello everyone. So, I’m giving a lecture on Friday with Kristen at Act Your Age for a friend’s class at UT on race and the media. We’ll be talking about whiteness and girlhood in contemporary American film, primarily because girls are often assumed or represented as white. We’re paying particular attention to Ellen Page and Zooey Deschanel’s turns in Juno and (500) Days of Summer, the latter text being held up as an instance of girlhood appropriation. After reading through Spin‘s 1997 Girl Issue and putting together clips and our PowerPoint presentation, apart from being overwhelmed by the whiteness, I was reminded of my girlhood.
In the interest of sharing, here are some clips from my youth, many of which we’ll be discussing. Please feel free to share. Also, as we’ll obviously be problematizing the exnomination of whiteness with regard to girlhood in our lecture, I’d also encourage people to challenge it themselves and offer mediated images of girls of color.
A few weeks back during lunch, I was sweating some things. I start blogging for Bitch tomorrow and will also be attending a conference later this month. While these are wonderful developments, I didn’t have any shorter entries in the queue for this blog. Ever helpful, Kristen at Act Your Age offered up the question “why doesn’t Ellen Page’s character like Goldfrapp in Hard Candy?” As she discussed this movie in her thesis on girl heroines in rape-revenge movies, I hope she’ll revisit it some time for her blog. But this was a question I had when I saw the movie and seemed like one I could answer here.
I saw this movie, apart from the star and subject matter, because it was English filmmaker David Slade’s directorial debut. While he may become a household name with Twilight: Eclipse, he caught my attention as a music video director. His moody aesthetic and high-contrast color palette in clips like Tori Amos’s “Strange Little Girls” indicate his style, as well as suggest that his interest in retelling Little Red Riding Hood preceded Hard Candy.
I didn’t like this 2006 psychological thriller when I first saw it. Upon review, some things caught my attention that were interesting. And I like the idea of a smart, resourceful girl vigilante tricking an older man she met in a chat room into a compromising situation so she can punish him for his pedophilic actions. However, I still maintain:
1. Hayley Stark seems too articulate, preachy, and savvy for me. She reads like a psychotic caricature of a PSA spokesperson instead of a complex, relateable 14-year-old girl. Page does a fine job with an essentially two-dimensional role, but the part is just as responsible for cultivating her self-aware persona as Juno would be later in her career.
2. Her personal motivations for torturing photographer Jeff Kohlver (Patrick Wilson, the actor who is almost Will Arnett) are never made clear, thus making her seem even more crazy.
3. The torture in this movie was — as Manohla Dargis pointed out in her review — unfortunately poignant upon its release. It’s also pretty boring, and makes up much of the movie’s content.
4. The movie’s use of violence in the service of its political message isn’t nearly as shocking as the hype led it to be perceived. Page’s character never commits any physical violence on her captive beyond repeatedly drugging him. Most of her abuse is psychological, ultimately culminating in him killing himself for her. However, this could be a really smart move for Stark — by having Kohlver off himself, it may remove her from implication.
But what does it mean that Stark’s character hates Goldfrapp? Earlier, before the torture begins at Kohlver’s swanky apartment, the two meet at a coffeeshop. Here and at his place before Stark drugs him, the two mention the Scottish electro outfit several times. Stark regrets not having seen them at their latest show, which Kohlver attended. He also swiped a bootleg mp3 of the concert, and promises to share it with Stark. Stark also talks about Zadie Smith and Jean Seberg, and Kohlver mentions her affinity for John Mayer and Coldplay.
In other words, Kohlver uses Stark’s demonstrative love of popular culture as a means of creating an illusory bond of shared preferences that he actually uses for the purposes of seduction and for holding power over her. But Stark is smart enough to pick up on this, suggesting that he faked an interest in these things during their online exchanges. She notes that he would often stop chatting with her for several minutes, possibly to look up these people who he may have pretended to know so as to impress her, and would copy and paste Amazon reviews into his messages to her.
When posing Kristen’s proposed question to our co-worker Rebekah, she suggested this might be a way for Stark’s character to impose authority over him by seeming more fluent in indie music culture than her victim. In other words, Stark is so cool that she already knows Goldfrapp well enough to find them outdated. This would certainly sync up with Ellen Page’s star persona as a hipster darling.
I want to add a wrinkle. Because one thing that struck me upon revisiting this movie is how clearly queer Stark’s character is. I’d even go so far as to read Stark as a lesbian, though speculations of Page’s sexuality and Stark’s resemblance to lesbians who look like Justin Bieber may inform this reading. It’s very clear in Stark’s stilted delivery of faux-sexy verbal solicitations that she is faking an attraction for a man and possibly an entire sex category.
Of course, seduction is performative. This is evident in Kohlver’s transparent, predatory flirting style. But there’s an edge to Stark’s performance that suggests she does not embody it and will reject it. This reading is problematic, as it links her militancy with negative stereotypes about lesbian radicalism. And I’ll also point out the irony in Stark’s disdain for Goldfrapp, as the duo has a big gay following. Remember their gig at The Planet on The L-Word?
But I also think that Stark may be saying that by hating Goldfrapp, she hates Kohlver and all of the things with which he professes to identify. While her hate assuredly encompasses pedophilia and sexual abuse, her disdain may also extend to the act of heterosexual sex, as the cultural value placed upon it also oppresses people, including queer girls. If compliance with heterosexism involves using erotically-charged electro-pop to seduce or assault, it makes sense why some girls hate Goldfrapp too.
The general consensus is that Prey for Rock & Roll is terrible. In fact, the trailer looked terrible.
But it’s about a LA-based band named Clamdandy (shudder) comprised of queer women supposedly past their prime. One of my favorite scenes in Whip It! is when Juliette Lewis’s character Iron Maven admits to Ellen Page’s Babe Ruthless that she didn’t find something she was really good at until after turning 30. I root for the underdog. You know this. Bonus points for a movie that features Lori Petty and Drea De Matteo, the latter of whom broke my heart as Adriana La Cerva on The Sopranos and looks like she was born to play in a rock band.
That said, wow what a pile of garbage Alex Steyermark’s directorial debut is. He’s since retreated back to his roots as a music supervisor and I think that’s for the best. I had no idea that a movie which opens on close-up fragments of Gina Gershon’s bare midriff, leather adorned chest, and open pout had nowhere to go but down.
But the movie has bigger obstacles than poor technical execution. It’s hard to overcome a script as hackneyed as the one first-time screenwriters Cheri Lovedog and Robin Whitehouse penned. Let’s count the regressions and clichés. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, don’t worry about the spoilers. You’ll see them coming.
1. Gershon’s Jacki is a bisexual tattoo artist who discovered the power of rock through Tina Turner and Exene Cervenka. She starts the movie with Jessica (played by Shakara Ledard), an African American woman who she casts aside in the name of rock. By the end of the movie, she’s with a white bruiser convict with a neck tattoo who goes by the name of Animal (played by Marc Blucas, who most Buffy fans will remember as Riley Finn). But don’t worry. He murdered his pedophile stepfather to save his sister, Sally.
2. Drummer Sally (played by Shelly Cole, who I’m currently watching play Madeline on another WB/CW teen soap called Gilmore Girls) is not only a survivor of sexual abuse. She also gets raped by Nick (played by Ivan Martin), a junkie with a sick rape fetish who dates bassist Tracy (De Matteo).
3. Tracy’s a junkie too. That damn trust fund is an albatross. But don’t worry — she gets clean after Jacki reveals to Sally that she has a similar family history and the band write a song called “Every Six Minutes” about sexual assault. I should be more excited about a song that confronts and indicts rape, but Lovedog isn’t a good songwriter either. For a good example of an anti-rape song, might I point you toward X’s “Johnny Hit and Run Paulene”?
Or, since punk boys often misunderstood its message, let’s listen to The Raveonettes’ “Boys Who Rape (Should All Be Destroyed).”
4. Sally is a lesbian and is dating guitarist Tracy (Petty). In addition to being punished by having to listen to the half-hearted efforts of lazy guitar students as an instructor, Tracy gets killed by an oncoming car when some no-goodniks of color steal her guitar.
But fear not. The band soldiers on. And yet, I have no real reason to care.
Literally just got back from a sneak preview of Fox Searchlight’s new potential sleeper Whip It! Gotta say, I really enjoyed it. Good job, director-lady Drew Barrymore. Good job, cast of rad ladies. If you follow this blog and like what you read, I think you should see it. Let’s watch that trailer one more time.
I’ll admit that certain things are problematic, like the “hey, we’re at Waterloo! Hey, we’re watching The Jerk at the Drafthouse,” feel of certain scenes. And there’s certain a potential argument to be formed out of how white roller derby appears to be, based on the movie (Eve is the only woman of color I saw represented, playing Rosa Sparks, a member of the Hurl Scouts). Also, Hurl Scout teen rookie and protagonist Bliss Cavender has a coming-of-age romance with an indie rocker named Oliver that, while it ends up being far-from-idealized, is unnecessary to me. Finally, I think the movie gets a little too plot-heavy at the end — I really don’t mind a movie that focuses more on character development instead of pushing action forward. Though most of the movie was shot in Michigan, it takes place in and around Austin. We keep it relaxed here, and I feel like the movie really flies when it keeps story structure loose.
That said, I found it to be a delightful, feel-good movie with a great feminist message: be your own hero. So let’s run through why I think you should see it when it comes out later this month.
1. Ellen Page brings it as Bliss. I still don’t know if it’ll catapult her to mega-stardom, but these sorts of roles fit her like a worn-in pair of jeans.
2. Alia Shawkat plays Bliss’s bestie Pash. She a) is totally awesome and funny, b) should be in more things, c) rocks a hot vuluptuous body, and d) should be my friend.
3. Ellen and Alia are totally convincing as friends, both on- and off-screen.
4. To that end, all of the female homosocial relationships are interesting — especially the intergenerational ones Bliss forms with mentor Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig), nemesis Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis), and her beauty pageant enthusiast mother, Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden). Most of the characters, almost all of whom are female, are thoughtful and well-developed.
5. Some good dude allies, particularly coach Razor (Andrew Wilson) and proud papa Earl Cavender (Daniel Stern).
6. Interesting class touches as well. Bliss is decidely lower-middle class. Her mother works as a mail courier. Bliss’s team-mates seem to suggest similar class backgrounds. Wiig’s Mayhem is a single mom. Kick-ass stunt woman extraordinaire Zoë Bell, who plays former Olympic figure skating contender Bloody Holly appears in scrubs, suggesting that she is either a nurse or a med student. And Drew Barrymore’s Smashley Simpson plays Austin’s most popular Whole Foods bagger.
7. Neat little feminist music geek touches abound. Note that Bliss gets Oliver to start talking to her by escaping a house party scene to play an album in an empty room upstairs. Giggle at the scene when Bliss and Pash dance together at their part-time job at a local greasy spoon, reconfiguring the words to Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” to be about the sad failure that is their hometown of (fictitious) Bodeen. Show your Texas pride by clapping along to Bliss and Oliver’s a cappela version of “Deep In the Heart of Texas” (we did at our screening). And beam at the realization that Bliss’s beloved Stryper t-shirt comes from her mother’s closet.
8. Girl-on-girl dancing and, I believe, implied girl-on-girl romance between Rosa Sparks and Ari Graynor’s Eva Destruction. When they shoo derby emcee “Hot Tub” Johnny (Jimmy Fallon) away from the jacuzzi at a house party after a meet, I think it’s just as much because they’re into each other as they aren’t into him.
9. Girls fall down and get bruised and get right back up. Sometimes someone helps them. Sometimes they help themselves. But they never stay down, even if they don’t have their next move plotted out yet. Always a good lesson, one that I hope will inspire many ladies to join a derby league or start playing some other sport. Fuck, now I wanna strap on some skates myself.