So the wife and I saw a roller derby game for the first time a couple weeks ago, Battle of the Bank III, in which our own San Diego Derby Dolls won the championship. Naturally, roller derby is now the best thing in the world ever, the greatest sport ever conceived, the highest achievement of humankind. I exaggerate slightly, but it’s least the most fun I’ve ever had watching some sort of sport match/game. Take this baseball game we went a while ago. So boring. The boringest. None more boring. The game was pretty much over by the fourth inning when the Padres were ahead by seven runs. Oh I suppose the Rockies could have rallied, but by the seventh San Diego was ahead 13-3. I was just waiting for the game to be put out its misery so that I can go have dinner in the Gaslamp with some friends, my coworker who actually danced when the Padres won. At least someone enjoyed it. See, here’s the thing about baseball: nothing happens for, like, eighty percent of the time. Most of the game is preparing for something to happen, and something happens for thirty seconds, and then everyone goes back to waiting for the next thing to happen. Thank god for beer (and curse god for $8.50 beers). Americans complain that soccer is boring because nothing happens for most of the time, but at least the ball is moving around a lot. As a professional expert random idiot, my conclusion of baseball is that it’s a game built around anticipation of action more than the action itself. Not so with roller derby. Shit is happening ALL THE TIME. So much so that it’s hard to keep track of it all. Barely controlled chaos. A churning river of girls bashing into each other and skating their little black hearts out.
Here are the rules of roller derby as explained to me by Chels (who was the smart one and did research beforehand) and as much as I can remember: there are the two skaters out front called….um, the leaders maybe. They keep the pace of the jam, which is the session in which the two teams try score points. In the middle are all the blockers. They block the jammers. It’s the jammers job to score points by skating through the blockers. For each skater on the opposing team that they pass they get a point. They might have to skate ahead one lap in order to start scoring points, something like that. Frankly, I have no idea how these points can be tracked and allotted since, like I said, it’s a teeming mess of skates, awesomely garish make up, brightly colored hair, and fishnets. Even the refs get in on the party with the costumes and darkly or crudely humorous nicknames. Basically, it’s a fun time.
Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be reviewing a movie. We actually got “Whip It” from Netflix before we saw the match because Chels wants to start doing roller derby soon, which is why we saw the match in the first place. The directorial debut of Drew Barrymore and written by a former Los Angeles Derby Doll, it tells the story of a podunk Texan teenager named Bliss (Bliss? Okay.) who is forced to compete in beauty pageants by her overbearing mother. Bliss soon discovers her true passion, roller derby, and thanks to her tenacity and her Barbie skates, she secretly joins the worst team in the league and sneaks off every week to play matches in Austin (of course it’s Austin). You can now pullout the Sport Movie Cliché Checklist we handed out at the beginning of class. An uptight domineering parent and a more laidback understanding other parent? Check. Underdog team with a gruff coach? Check. The rival champion team that’s evil for some reason? Check. Rival Team Leader has a personal grudge against her heroine for no reason? Check. Does Bliss become the team’s savior and mascot and helps the team win matches for once and gets them to the championship? Check. Does the Evil Team Leader find out that Bliss broke some sort of rule and threatens to use it against her so that she can’t play in the championship (but later claim that she was kidding and really did want to face her in the final match)? That’s a little convoluted, but check. Do the parents eventually find out about the roller derby and her mother flips out and forbids her to go to any more roller derby but the father is more sympathetic and lets her go to play in championship and even convinces her mother that roller derby’s not so bad? Oh you’d better believe that’s a check. Does the heroine have a long subplot involving an infatuation with an indie rock guitarist which causes her to neglect her sidekick friend but then she suspects him of cheating on her with a groupie? Che—wait, is that really on the checklist for sports movie clichés? Well, no but that’s another instance whether the movie sidesteps the many cliché traps. Some of the plot beats are completely predictable, but they’re dealt with in a clever fashion or simply muscled through by the charm of the actors. Bliss’ relationship with her mother, for instance, is not resolved in a trite manner. And I’ve not seen Juno, but Ellen Page is done a good job here, going from a timid Dariaesque character type to asskicking superskater no problem. The rest of the cast are clearly having a ball filming the movie and that filters through to the audience. Basically, it’s a fun time.
On a side note, the roller derby match was taking place concurrently with the International Beer Festival in the Del Mar Fair. Now, I like beer. Let me reassure you of that. And I like all kinds, from light and crisp to strong and heavy. But after tasting about, oh, seventy different beers in one ounce samples, all of them strong, all of them flavorful, it got a bit overwhelming. We totally overbeered. Not that we were even that drunk, it was just that after four hours of this, the thought of one more taste of beer made us nauseous. Closing time rolled around and I could not stomach one more one ounce of chocolate stout or triple IPA or Belgian cask-aged barley wine made by trappist monks. At that moment, a Pabst Blue Ribbon would have been most welcome. Yeah, it was that bad. The beer mixed well with roller derby though.