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The Independent Critic

Women of the Rose City Rollers
Chip Mabry
80 Mins.
Gravitas Ventures

 "Brutal Beauty" Review 

Could it be that I just like angry, aggressive women?


While I first caught the doc Brutal Beauty: Tales of the Rose City Rollers during the 2010 Indy LGBT Film Festival, the film is now enjoying a limited nationwide release courtesy of the wise folks at Cinema Purgatorio and is currently playing right here back in Indy at the Georgetown 14 Cinemas owned by Republic Theatres.

While new director Chip Mabry currently gets a bit too caught up with talking heads, a particular waste given the electrifying spirit and quirky charm of roller derby, Brutal Beauty is both an entertaining and an informative feature-length doc that will undoubtedly please fans of the sport while potentially providing just enough entertainment and insight to attract a few new fans along the way for those who venture into the theatres.

The film centers around Portland, Oregon's four team Rose City Rollers league, a member of the national Women's Flat Track Derby Association. Mabry does a nice job of managing source material that could have either made light of the more cartoonish aspects of the very serious sport or, adversely, made the film in such a way that it only reinforced the sport as nothing more than faux entertaining sports. Instead, Mabry weaves his way through a variety of the various characters to be found among the Rose City Rollers and, yes, they do all go by names such as Madame Bumpsalot, Blood Clottia and others. While there's definitely humor to be found in the sport of roller derby, Mabry captures nicely the seriousness of the sport, the training, the strategies involved and the lives of the women who involve themselves in an activity that is equal parts anger management, athletic pursuit, female bonding and, yes, ridiculously entertaining.

An exceptional feature of the film, though it becomes a tad monotonous, is that one of the coaches, Rob Lobster, actually explains how it all works - an excellent primer in roller derby rules and regulations for the inexperienced and likely to encourage more than a few people to attend their first bout. Each team has a jammer, a pivot and three blockers and once you've learned how integral each role is to the team it's nearly impossible to not marvel at the punk rock poetry that follows.

Mabry does, at times, fall a bit short in what is most likely to be considered first-time filmmaker mistakes such as not quite capturing the action sequences with as much fluidity as is called for and giving a little too much time to the back stories and not enough time to the sport itself. Yet, even when logic dictates that the film is falling a bit short the film itself remains undeniably entertaining.

If you're in the Indianapolis area, head on out to Georgetown Cinemas this week to catch this doc and discover a theater that is rapidly becoming one of Indy's better alternatives for the indie filmmaker outside the usual Landmark theatres at Keystone and Glendale. For more information on Brutal Beauty, visit the film's website.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic