Page plays a 17-year-old named Bliss who escapes from the stifling world of teen beauty pageants and finds a home in the unconventional but girl-power-affirming arena of professional roller derby. Dubbed "Babe Ruthless," Bliss skates to glory alongside such teammates as Maggie Mayhem (Kristen Wiig) and the accident-prone Smashley Simpson (Barrymore). The movie gets a thumbs-up for accuracy from at least one real-life derby pro, and now that critics have taken it for a spin, "Whip It" also is earning praise for its action, its comedy, its uplift, its teen-friendliness, and its strong women before and behind the camera. Read a sampling of reviews from top critics below. -- By Gary Susman
Roger Ebert: "While it may not reflect the kind of female empowerment Gloria Steinem had in mind, it has guts, charm, and a black-and-blue sweetness."
Washington Post: "Arriving on the nastier heels of the horror comedy "Jennifer's Body," "Whip It" plays like that movie's more wholesome twin, delivering the same jolt of anarchic guerrilla-girl empowerment, only with a far less threatening disposition."
Los Angeles Times: "For the most part, the 34-year-old Barrymore, with much of her life spent in front of the camera and more than a few impressive producing credits already in the bank, proves steady on her feet, able to handle curves and straightaways with equal grace."
Salon: "It's elusive and noodly, as if Barrymore... could never quite be sure which direction she wanted to head in. It's a beginning roller-skater's movie, with arms and legs going every which way. But 'Whip It' has such a sweet spirit that it's easy enough to let its flaws sail by."
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San Francisco Chronicle: "Barrymore and Shauna Cross (who adapted her own novel) work the formulas for underdog sports flicks and black-sheep teen comedies with great skill but no great innovation, relying on the usual tropes and plot turns. Yet the movie's tough-chick vim and spunky humor keep things rolling along with a fun, bruising energy. And it's sweet. For all the hip checks and bloody noses, it doesn't have a mean bone in its body."
Philadelphia Inquirer: "More intimately than most in Hollywood, Barrymore knows how few female types there are on screen. Beyond the good girl and the bad girl (movie versions of the madonna and the whore), there are square pegs. Barrymore puts faces and gives backstories to these nonconformists trying to define themselves before others define them."
Austin Chronicle: "These girls just want to have fun, even though their pleasure involves getting banged up and bruised to the roar of hot metal thunder beneath their feet. As the central character, Bliss Cavendar, Page demonstrates that her breakout performance in 'Juno' was no fluke and that she has what it takes to carry a film."
Entertainment Weekly: "[Page's Babe Ruthless] is heck on wheels, or so we are asked to believe: The rink footage is pretty un-whippy."
USA Today: "Sports films centering on girls and women are worth cheering on. But Whip It lacks the charm and energy of a Bend It Like Beckham. Strangely, Barrymore's tribute to girl power lacks exuberance."
New York Daily News: "Too many films geared toward young women casually undercut them in ways that are alternately lazy and cruel. You won't find any of that here - just a giddy blast of girl power that races confidently around the track while hip-checking Hollywood's worst tendencies."