Make Believe Seattle 2023: Valentine Crush – Straight to the Sin Bin

Roller derby is a rad sport. If you ever have the chance to watch it, go. It’s like all the fun parts of a defensive hockey game. Lane management. Physicality. The match of fluidity and brutality. Get to know the jammers. My experience is it’s rewarding to ingratiate yourself. They’re inherently cool people. They play roller derby. They support full contact sports outside the gendered lines of Men’s Sports, and now, so do you. Become a fan. They need fans like you. Just don’t become their number one fan. Don’t obsess about the skaters. They are not there for your leering obsession. Do not crush on the skaters.

Remember they can crush you. That’s what they are good at. Roller derby is one of the best recreational sports and is better than you think for spectating. It doesn’t quite roll that way in Valentine Crush. This is the story of a tough enforcer on a rec league team and her number one fan that goes too far in his obsessions.

Director Jamie Wede is smart to center the roller derby action. As I’ve observed, as a non-obsessed fan, several matches of friends, I’d say it understands the spirit of the thing. The action is not all there, not totally. It lacks the real speed and tension of the game but is just enough that you buy into it. The perspective of the sport itself is played at a beer league level. The actors are not evidently great skaters or great actors. They are, instead, what is basically what is called for: tough people who can kind of scrimmage in a small mass of people on skates. They do not fall over unless they need to. They do not have stunt doubles. This is all passable for what’s expected.

Vicky Valentine (Kate Pryor) is the star of the derby team, known for her rough and tumble skating style that often lands her in the sin bin, or penalty box. This offers a few fun opportunities for tough roller derby action, but the lensing is so strange. The film plays in a small rink setting with a bleacher of audience members, whatever extras they could get. Then, it filters between a few different kinds of shots of the roller derby, between fogged-out focused action, medium shots that only really establish the group, and awkward audience and score-keeper cutaways. It’s messy, but not a deal breaker. It’s about as fun as the movie will be.

Given that the runtime is barely over an hour, it does not leave a lot of time for the rest of the movie to happen. The rest of the progression is short-handed and slightly disappointing. The girls go out to the bar. A little bit of neon outside but again shot in a few conflicting styles that do not establish a clear methodology for the theme or motifs. Vicky Valentine is accosted by her number one fan and then taken home by them. Upon waking up, she realizes he’s a total menace and the very short genre movie in the backend emerges. A struggle, a chase through the cornfields, and as is standard, revenge.

There is one certain charm behind the low-end audio production. The lines sound off-the-cuff, framed bizarrely and with just strange enough readings, that it always feels like something can boil over, every line is off-kilter, and especially, our lead actress leans into her opportunities. There is also whatever music the production could access, almost playing through the whole movie at a low hum, and even a kind-of-rap-song recorded just for the movie which is fun for the end credits. The movie part is just not engaging, really, and not as cool as the premise that might dig into roller derby with some substance beyond just framing such a cool sport being cool. There’s a better and longer movie and more cohesive version of the ideas Valentine Crush is going for, but it’s just shy of really allowing you to be its number one fan.


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