It's a sport movie. It's a coming of age movie. It's a grrrl power movie. It's a cliche, but it's more or less a fun cliche.
Ellen Page (JUNO) stars as Bliss Cavendar of Bodeen, Texas. Her mother Brooke (Marcia Gay Harden) was a beauty queen before she got pregnant and married Earl (Daniel Stern). Now she's a letter carrier who lives her beauty queen fantasies vicariously through her daughters (Bliss and her little sister Shania). Bliss's best friend is Pash (Alia Shawkat of "Arrested Development"), and far more of a wild child than Bliss. Case in point, she convinces Bliss to die her hair blue for a beauty pageant--impressing neither her mom or the judges.
No big deal, Bliss obviously isn't that in to beauty pageants anyway. And on a night out with Pash, she finds out about Roller Derby--a raucous sport where teams of girls in fishnets skate around a track and score points by passing the other team (it's a contact sport, and blocking and hitting the other team is a big part of it). On a lark she tries out for the worst team in the league--the Hurl Scouts. Turns out, she's a really fast skater and would make a good jammer (the player who scores points) if she just toughens up--becomes ruthless. And since she needs a skating name, she becomes Babe Ruthless.
The plot points are cliche--she learns to be tough, the team comes together and starts winning, she gets into trouble with her family and her heart, lessons are learned and people come together.
But screw the cliches. The performances are great. Not just Page and Shawkat, but her others including teammates Zoe Bell (as Bloody Holly), Kristen Wiig (Maggie Mayhem), Eve (Rosa Sparks) and director Drew Barrymore (Smashley Simpson) or rival Juliette Lewis (Iron Maven of the team The Holy Rollers). Even Jimmy Fallon as a tasteless announcer 'Hot Tub' Johnny Rocket was pretty good. And with this cast and this obvious joy in the project, I can overlook the cliches.
One other thing that struck me as odd. Most of this movie--the parts that aren't in Bodeen--takes place in Austin. I've never been to Austin, but it's somehow oddly familiar. I recognize the Alamo Drafthouse. I recognize the "Hi, how are you?" picture by Daniel Johnston. I even knew that the modern incarnation of Roller Derby originated in Austin. It's weird that I know so much about Austin without ever having been there. I've learned this all through movies. Weird.