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'Whip It' rocks out while it rolls

The roller-derby movie has 75 songs, including a Ramones classic and

October 09, 2009|Todd Martens

For all of its high-energy sweetness, Drew Barrymore's coming-of-age roller-derby tale, "Whip It," might be one of the most rock 'n' roll-heavy flicks of the year. The film packs 75 songs into its 111 minutes, tracking the first taste of independence from Ellen Page's teenage character, Bliss, with a trail of contemporary music.

Staples of teenage autonomy, such as the Ramones' punk-meets-bubble gum pop gem "Sheena Is a Punk Rocker," are represented as are current chart hits like MGMT's "Kids." Still, the music seems natural in "Whip It" -- the songs are a constant, but they naturally fade in and out of the background as characters move from diners to parties.

That organic use of pop, according to the movie's music supervisor, Randall Poster, was intentional.

"We wanted to find music that itself didn't feel overworked or overburdened," Poster said. "The music lays naturally into the story. It doesn't feel like it's a contrivance or being asked to do more than just be musical. Sometimes when a movie is struggling, they rely on music to help carry the movie or make a dramatic point. We didn't need to do that."

Inspired by the Shauna Cross novel "Derby Girl," Barrymore's film follows Page's Bliss as she discovers a world beyond middle-class suburbia, falling in love with the danger and camaraderie of roller derby -- as well as learning the dangers of dating dudes in bands -- along the way.

"Whip It" opened in theaters last week, bringing in a relatively tame $4.9 million in its debut weekend. An accompanying 19-track soundtrack on Rhino Records preceded the film's release, and the movie's box office fate ultimately might determine whether a second volume of music makes its way to the public. But it won't be for Poster's lack of trying.

The music supervisor, whose credits this year also include the Diablo Cody-written "Jennifer's Body" and Jason Reitman's "Up in the Air," said he was surprised at how much music was crammed into "Whip It." Barrymore writes in the soundtrack's liner notes about trading iPods full of music with the cast and crew to perfect the film's playlist.

"I don't think anybody thought that the film could have carried that many tunes," Poster said. "I saw a potential for using a lot of music, but this is more than you really ever see in a movie. On reflection, you realize there's a lot of songs, but I don't think it's one of those movies that's overwhelmed by songs."

Of the 75 songs in "Whip It," only a handful actually dominate the scene. Radiohead's "No Surprises" and the Breeders' "Cannonball" come at pivotal moments, and Jens Lekman's "Your Arms Around Me" scores an underwater love scene -- the song's innocent hand claps, sugary beat and daydream melancholy give a bittersweet bite to the film's romance.

Yet it's MGMT's "Kids" that stands as a centerpiece in the movie's second act. It's one of the few contemporary radio songs in "Whip It," and it scores Bliss' step into adulthood.

"The MGMT record is still on the charts, so I think it does make a big impression," Poster said.

"There's some of this that's intellectual, but at a certain point, it just becomes kinetic," he said of the art of song selection. "You try these things and sometimes it feels like we're trying too hard, or it takes us out of the story. But at that moment, it felt like we had earned it."

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todd.martens@latimes.com

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