I guess we all know by now that this script was written by Shauna Cross, taken from her book about her life as a roller derby femme from Texas - in a tough-minded, no holds barred sport that turns women into scrapping, foul-mouthed, heavily made-up, gaudily costumed broads. It's totally formulaic, totally predictable, having been blended with a pair of plots that we see coming the moment they hit the screen: the scheming mother who dictatorially means to shape her daughter to win in a beauty contest (Michael Ritchie's 1975 "Smile" did it so much better!) and an improbable love story between sweet Bliss Cavenda - later to join the motley team of Smashley Simpson, Jabba the Slut (no kidding!) et al as Babe Ruthless - and a weakly created rock singer, with their love cinched underwater in a school pool. (It has to be the most laughable love scene ever made for the silver screen!)
Working from a script reeking with charm & slushiness about female bonding, Drew Barrymore takes what she imagines a giant leap into directing (while acting in a small part), stumbling blindly instead, from one ill conceived set-piece to another.
Everything is wrong about this attempt to tell the story of a girl trying to find her real self - all off-kilter, as if Barrymore knows what she wants but lacks the ability to create it; the film loses all sense of time & location, lacks consistency, and provides the cast with nothing more than obvious, thin characterizations. Logical motivation? Forget it.
The conflict - between our heroine's rapid development from Bliss to Ruthless and concealing her true love of rollering from her demanding mother - is another ridiculously unreal set-up. We know that the work & time demanded to turn a young woman into a pageant winner is all consuming, allowing no time for the days here used up in roller practice. Nor does a girl on her first pink roller skates become a prime winner almost overnight with only a couple of brief overlapping scenes to suggest the time & effort - and talent - involved.
I don't know how intentional it was for Barrymore to place the camera during the competitions so that we get plenty of rear views up the skater's short short skirts, but it certainly supplies arousing interest when none is otherwise available.) The action shots are awkwardly cut together, with less than enough cameras to bring more than a few angles to the game to reveal the violence, the cheating, and the desperation in such a sport. As with all the sequences, there's too little exposition to develop too many situations, jerkily stitched together.
The characters need a certain depth of portrayal that is sadly lacking. When mother (Marsha Gay Harden, who doesn't know what to do with her role beyond the obvious) realizes her daughter will be rolling on the same night as the final beauty contest, she moans over the $800 spent on a dress that looks like something off a St. Vincent's rack, and without much else to suggest the depth of her desires. Ellen Page, the only person on screen that shows some professional acting ability, has troubles in believably turning the small town homebody into a tough, flaming winner with drive even though the script says so. And so on. Barrymore's lack of expertise does little to express anything beyond the unbelievable or stereotypical.
To wrap it up - as if to make up for the lack of desired impression being made by the episodic sequences - Barrymore closes her film with credits accompanied by unrelated snippets from the film as if to say, "Look, look, remember this, see how fulfilling it was?" It wasn't. Despite the overly sincere efforts on the part of the cast & crew to rise above the ineptitude, there's not even enough sound & fury to arouse a whimper - all vapid emotion without thought-provoking perception. Impressionable girls will love it. (Grade: D)