Drew Barrymore, making her directorial debut, is blunt on-screen and off- about her inspirations for this tale of an anguished debutante-turned-roller grrrl: Take a little bit of Peter Yates’s Breaking Away (a teen townie trying to escape his humdrum existence and dad on a 10-speed), toss in Adrian Lyne’s Foxes (bored suburban girls screwing and drinking to Boston and Donna Summer), and add John Hughes’s Pretty in Pink (good girl makes bad choice in boy) and a bit of George Roy Hill’s Slap Shot (sports violence as metaphor for outsider’s struggle). The only thing that keeps Barrymore’s effort from playing like an American Movie Classics rerun is the soundtrack, an alternarock all-skate to which Juno‘s Ellen Page goes ’round and ’round an Austin, Texas, roller-derby rink during her rather sudden rise from klutz-on-wheels to girl-power poster child. Page’s beauty queen, Bliss Cavendar, is ultimately the least interesting character in the film—a more-good-than-bad youth in revolt clashing with an overbearing but well-meaning mom (Marcia Gay Harden), a sweet but disinterested dad (Breaking Away‘s Daniel Stern), the best friend with big plans (Alia Shawkat), and the mopey-dopey indie rocker who fucks her over (Landon Pigg, a singer-songwriter making his, um, acting debut). Highlights: Andrew Wilson as the roller girls’ coach (ah, so there’s the Wilson brother who can act) and the roller-derby vets (played especially well by Juliette Lewis and Kristen Wiig) about whom we learn just enough to wish the movie was focused on them instead.
“So much for blue skies! What about the future?” Thus New Zealand’s young punks, Die! Die! Die!, fling exhortations back at a preacher who’s told them, “You must believe!” They aren’t really asking, but they also aren’t echoing Johnny Rotten, that cunning London Irish drop-out, caterwauling “No-o-o/Fu-u-t-yahh” in a faux-cockney parody of a muezzin calling the faithful to prayer a quarter-century before 9/11. No, it’s not quite the same, because outrages and disasters do take their places in the landscape. So even Die! Die! Die!, with their shrieky little name and shrieky little songs (tattooed in ears by the phonograph needles of Andrew Wilson’s voice and guitar), find themselves pausing long enough to explain, quite reasonably, “Well sir, this winter, I cannot believe.” “Blue Skies” is the last song on Die! Die! Die!’s second album, Promises, Promises. Last year’s Steve Albini–recorded, self-titled debut’s flying shards of impulsive/compulsive encounters were caught by walls thrown up, of tracks tightened till they imploded (10 songs, in just over 20 minutes). But now, on the Shayne Carter–produced Promises, walls are pushed out as inner space-junk expands; shards reappear as pieces of Wilson’s personal blue skies, of old hopes and dreams. Shattered, scattered voice and guitar can’t help planting some bizarre memory garden of l-u-v. But the eloquent guts of Lachlan Anderson’s bass will never digest such seeds so easily, and drummer Michael Prain’s Keith Moon-style soloing-as-accompaniment dents craters in an everyday maze, where Wilson and “You!” grapple in reflective gear.
Die! Die! Die! play the Music Hall of Williamsburg March 29 and Highline Ballroom March 30.