It may not have been a big-money opening for Whip It, but the people who love it are likely to be loyal to it for years.
I was utterly enchanted by Whip It, the roller-derby-themed coming-of-age story, starring Ellen Page and directed by Drew Barrymore, that opened Friday. Not only is it touching and funny and a rollicking good time, but it's a movie that rarely finds its way to the multiplex — it's a sports movie about a team of women, it's got a cast chosen mostly for suitability and not perceived hotness, and it's warmly funny but almost wisecrack-free.
Of course, all these things are box-office poison. Without wisecracks, what do you put in the trailer? Without perceived hotness, who do you put out front to promote it? You can talk all you want about astonishingly good performances from people like Alia Shawkat (that's Cousin Maeby to you) and Marcia Gay Harden, but it's hard to compete with horror comedies like Zombieland, which stomped everything else this weekend.
Its slow weekend at the box office, therefore, was sad news. The people who saw it gave it great marks, but not a lot of them went.
It's enough to make you despair, but I don't.
Long tails and the power of enthusiasm, after the jump...
I have to think, and I admit it may be wishful thinking, that the story of this movie making money is far from over. At the end of the showing I went to on Friday night, the audience — mostly made up of groups of women and girls — cheered. One friend who saw it immediately vowed to buy it on DVD and put it in his five-year-old daughter's room to be opened when she turns 13.
Watching it, I was struck by how it had been kept so clean — I don't know that they even hit the maximum swear level for PG-13. You could run it very close to intact on ABC Family, and I think that was done on purpose. Like any effective sports movie, it's exciting and it's fun, but it's also a bit of a valentine, I think, from Drew Barrymore to girls who are teenagers now, and those who will be teenagers in the future.
It's hard to convey the importance of some of what's in the movie without getting into spoiler territory, but suffice it to say that the final scene between Page's character, Bliss, and her love interest is so smart and so significant and so legitimately revolutionary given the sensibilities of 99 percent of the movies that depict teenage girls that that scene alone would make it a great gift for your daughter when she turns 13. That in spite of the fact that the romantic story really makes up a very small part of the movie, most of which is about the importance of friendship and of finding a thing you love to do that is yours.
Not that many people made it out to see it on opening weekend, but the people who love this movie are going to love it. It's not a movie like The Proposal, where you watch it and it's fun and then you forget all about it. I like to think it's going to live on cable and on DVD and at slumber parties, and even before it leaves theaters, it may make a few more bucks on word of mouth.
It got me thinking about a movie that opened in fourth place on the weekend of August 21-23, 1987, behind Stakeout, Born In East L.A., and Can't Buy Me Love. It made $3.9 million that weekend, but it hung around for months, and later became a massive home-video phenomenon. A 2007 BBC survey suggested that Dirty Dancing was the movie women watched more than any other.
Do I think Whip It is Dirty Dancing? Of course not, for lots of reasons. But not every movie has its fate determined by what happens in the first three days, and I wouldn't be surprised to see the outlook on this one six months or five years from now to be substantially more nuanced than the "flop" label it's getting right now.