Roller derby is a lot more than just skating around and around a track, as any of the bruised but buoyant gals featured in the documentary "Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers" will tell you. For the uber-competitive, it's a puzzle to solve; for the creative, it's an alter-ego party of hot pants, punny names and tattoos; for the highly social, it's always girls' night out; and for plenty of women whose toughness has no outlet in polite society, it's an emotional release or athletically minded anger management.
The fierce, funny Portland, Ore., women whose independent league is the focus of director Chip Mabry's film — and who go by game aliases such as Madame Bumpsalot, Cadillac, Blood Clottia and the literately clever Scratcher in the Eye — are a charismatic, articulate bunch. At a certain point their sentiments about roller derby become repetitive, though, and you wish Mabry had done more observing of these tattooed, hard-working warriors in situations other than an interview or midbout. (Unlike a rousing derby match, documentaries can definitely feel monotonously circular.)
But for anyone unfamiliar with the flowering punk aesthetic of female roller derby in the last few decades, the scrappy, admiring "Brutal Beauty" is an energetic personality parade of some of the sport's die-hards.
— Robert Abele
"Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers." Unrated. Running time: 1 hour, 19 minutes. At the Downtown Independent, Los Angeles.