September 15, 2009 / 7:44 PM / 9 years ago

Drew Barrymore wins early raves for directing debut

TORONTO (Reuters) - Some people seem to have all the luck. Include in that group actress, producer and now director, Drew Barrymore.

Director and cast member Drew Barrymore poses at the conclusion of a news conference for "Whip It" during the 34th Toronto International Film Festival on September 15, 2009. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni

But having luck and doing something with it are two different things, and as early reviews trickle in for Barrymore’s directorial debut, girl power flick “Whip It,” it seems the offspring of a Hollywood legend has found a new career.

“Whip It,” a tale of one young woman defying her mother’s wish of beauty pageant stardom for the rough-and-tumble sport of roller derby, debuted Sunday at the Toronto International Film Festival, and by Monday was being called a “remarkable debut” by show business newspaper The Hollywood Reporter.

Variety said the movie was “a gas” and Screen International weighed in with “Drew Barrymore seems less concerned with crafting a riveting cinematic experience as she is in creating a good time. On that criterion, she has succeeded.”

A girl — or boy — could do a lot worse.

“I was so impressed with her as a director because she knew what she wanted to see. She really had a strong visual sense of the movie,” said Juliette Lewis, who portrays the hard-charging Iron Maven skater on the Holy Rollers team in “Whip It.”

“I really feel like I was making the first movie of a young filmmaker,” said Lewis.

Barrymore, of course, is the daughter of John Drew Barrymore, who was the son of acting legend John Barrymore — the brother of Lionel Barrymore and Ethel Barrymore.

The 34-year-old got her show business start as a child in movies like “Altered States,” and made her mark with audiences with Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” as the young girl who made friends with an alien.

By her 20s, she was producing films such as the “Charlie’s Angels” box office hits, and even little independent sensation, “Donnie Darko.”

This Sunday, she is in the running to win an Emmy, U.S. TV’s top honor, for her portrayal of eccentric socialite Edith “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale in HBO drama “Grey Gardens.” And while she was ill and unable to talk to Reuters in Toronto, back in April ahead of the “Grey Gardens” TV debut, Barrymore told Reuters that directing was one of her main goals in life.

“She was awesome,” said “Juno” actress and Oscar nominee Ellen Page, who plays Bliss Cavendar, a.k.a. Babe Ruthless of the team Hurl Scouts in “Whip It.” “She worked tirelessly. She gave energy to everybody, which was mind-blowing.”

By day, Bliss is a high school girl in a small Texas town who likes rock music and loathes the teen beauty queens that her mom (Marcia Gay Harden) wants her to be like. When Bliss discovers the freewheeling derby girls on a trip to Austin, she changes her job schedule and rolls with the team at night.

Soon, Bliss’ alter ego Babe Ruthless becomes a top draw on the roller derby circuit, but that only brings trouble at home, and problems in her blossoming love life.

While most movies aimed at young women offer only longing, heartbreak and unrequited love (think “Twilight”), “Whip It” serves up sharp elbows, hip blocks, punk rock and beer bongs.

Whether the positive momentum from early reviews and Toronto audiences continues as “Whip It” rolls into U.S. theaters on October 2 remains to be seen. But one thing is for sure, it appears to be off to a good start. Lucky Drew.

Edited by Jennifer Kwan and Jill Serjeant

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