Note: Writer Robin Rosenzweig is an actual Derby Doll, graciously
making her Fanboy Planet debut to talk about Whip It, based
on ... the Derby Dolls.)
would play you in the movie about your life?
all played this game. For me, Drew Barrymore’s directorial
debut Whip It is about as close as it’s going
to get to that game becoming a reality.
back story: in late 2003, I was perusing Craigslist when
I found a recruitment ad for a new roller derby league in
Los Angeles. As someone who always fantasized about the
idea of playing roller derby but never thought it would
actually happen, I responded immediately and was at my first
practice with the L.A. Derby Dolls just days later.
time, the Dolls were one of a handful of leagues that were
part of a burgeoning resurgence of women’s roller
derby with a modern twist, featuring witty skater names,
kitschy team themes, and a DIY spirit. But more importantly,
the sport – which in the 70’s and 80’s
took more of a staged, pro-wrestling style – is now
long after I started skating with the L.A. Derby Dolls that
I realized I had found my calling. Six years later, I’m
still skating with the Dolls under the name Suzy Snakeyes,
and now the modern derby community is over 400 leagues strong
and has a worldwide presence.
before I rolled in, a woman by the name of Shauna Cross
found a recruitment ad on Craigslist and went to her practice
with the L.A. Derby Dolls. She took on the moniker of Maggie
Mayhem and became a formidable competitor on the track.
When not skating, the aspiring author would go on to pen
a young adult novel called Derby Girl, which would
then go on to be optioned by Flower Films and eventually
adapted in to the film we know today as Whip It.
the story is essentially fiction, she included so many personal
elements from our league history that it serves as a bit
of a retrospective of the last six years of my life.
It stars Ellen Page as Bliss Cavendar, a misfit teen
living in the tiny town of Bodeen, Texas. When not working
at the Oink Joint with best friend Pash (Arrested Development’s
Alia Shawkat), Bliss is competing in the local pageant circuit
at her mother’s (Marcia Gay Harden at her southern
during a shopping trip to Austin that Bliss happens upon
a flier for an upcoming roller derby bout. After a little
parental subterfuge, Bliss attends the game with Pash and
instantly becomes enamored with the sport. She soon tries
out (having to first lie about her age since the minimum
age is 21) and realizes she has found her calling as a rough
and tumble roller girl.
of us in the roller derby community have known about this
movie for quite some time, and have felt that a lot was
riding on it. Although our sport has been growing at a rapid
rate since it was founded in 2001 by a handful of girls
that would go on to form T*X*R*D (which was used as the
name of the derby league in the film), we consider this
the sport’s grand introduction to the world at large.
So we definitely wanted to see it done right.
film demonstrates ideals that the derby community takes
seriously, such as the hard work it takes to become a top
skater, the idea that safety is sexy, and that if you fight
and exhibit bad sportsmanship, you are ultimately not an
asset to your team. And the actors look like real skaters,
possibly because they did a great deal of their own skating
for that can be given to the derby trainers – my league-mates
Alex “Axles of Evil” Cohen (who also served
as derby consultant), Jennifer “Kasey Bomber”
Barbee and Erin “Myna Threat” Smith. Several
of the teams in the movie were also populated with real
derby skaters from Michigan, where the film was shot.
movie is especially personal to the members of the L.A.
Derby Dolls who have been around since the early days. The
main roller derby team is the Girl Scouts gone bad themed
Hurl Scouts, which is based on my own real-life team the
Tough Cookies (a team I helped found and have been on since
2004). The Scouts’ coach Razor (brilliantly played
by Owen and Luke’s brother Andrew Wilson) is a dead-on
tribute to the Dolls’ first coach, down to the dolphin
necklace and dune buggy.
where the fire marshal shuts down a game is taken right
out of the L.A. Derby Dolls history book. Jimmy Fallon’s
announcer Hot Tub Johnny is named after a real person who
would host many a hot tub party for the Dolls back in our
early days. Additionally, a handful of the characters names
are real Derby Doll names, including Kristen Wiig’s
Hurl Scout team captain Maggie Mayhem (a nod to the screenwriter).
here’s a real mindbender: Bliss’ rival is named
Iron Maven (Juliette Lewis). Her real life namesake (Rachel
Piplica – aka the real Iron Maiven) plays one of the
silent but deadly Manson Sisters (along with Kristen “Krissy
Krash” Adolfi – both teammates of mine on the
Tough Cookies). So when Hot Tub Johnny announces the “one
and only Iron Maven” as Lewis steps onto the track
as Manson Sister #1 skates alongside her, I can’t
quite figure out who he’s talking about. But that’s
probably just my problem.
of the roller derby elements of Whip It, director
Barrymore (who also has a supporting role as feisty skater
Smashley Simpson) manages to weave together a sweet, multi-faceted
coming of age story that is ultimately about relationships
– mother/daughter, best friends, first love (Bliss’
musician love interest is played by actual musician Landon
Pigg), and the discovery of a community where she truly
belongs. Although these concepts aren’t new to movie-going
audiences, they are handled in a mature and non-predictable
manner. Ultimately, it’s a well-done effort from a
first time director that handled the story with a great
deal of care and really does well by the derby community.
if Whip It 2 ever gets made, I’d like to
state for the record that Tina Fey would be a fine choice
to play me. Just sayin’.
Note: Yeah, Robin's right. Tina Fey would be a fine choice.)