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'Whip It' didn't need to get whipped at box office

October 26, 2009 |  2:15 pm

My colleague Patrick Goldstein weighed in this morning on why Fox Searchlight's "Amelia" failed to catch on with viewers. Well, for starters, the length and the hideous reviews probably didn't help.

WHIPIT I'm more curious about "Whip It," also from Fox Searchlight. I saw it this weekend along with about six other people (not in my group, in the entire theater). The movie, which stars Ellen Page and marked the directorial debut Drew Barrymore (who also co-stars) got mostly favorable reviews. Although the basic plot -- girl comes of age in small town Texas, rebels against her controlling mother and finds happiness in the offbeat world of roller derby -- had its fair share of cliches, it also had enough humor and wit to carry it well beyond those flaws.

Yet it flopped. It opened at $4.6 million and fell fast. Through October 25 it had taken in about $12.3 million. With a production budget of only $15 million, it won't take much for the movie to break even, but this movie should have been nurtured with a limited release instead of being tossed out there on 1,700 screens to sink or swim.

There seems to have been some confusion as to whether the movie is a sports flick, hipster flick, or a chick flick. In reality, it is a little of all three and word-of-mouth would have been better at spreading that message than a marketing campaign that wouldn't be able to capture all the elements of the movie.

Furthermore, although "Whip It" is far from "Juno" on skates, that role has become the one with which Page is most identified. It is hard to see her without thinking about that, especially when she is playing basically a sarcastic outsider who's not quite a complete outcast but still miles away from the cool kids. Since the decision was to go with a wide release, perhaps the push for "Whip It" should have focused on the rest of the cast as well as Page. Certainly there were enough known names including Barrymore, Marcia Gay Harden, Eve, Juliette Lewis and the other Wilson brother (Andrew) to market. All were great, even Jimmy Fallon.

Of course, it's easy to say some of this in hindsight, but it seems a shame that instead of "Whip It" being a sleeper hit it's on its way fast-track to the DVD bin.

-- Joe Flint

Photo: "Whip It." Credit: Darren Michaels