I spent a good portion of my twenties indulging a raging roller derby fetish, watching bouts in tiny retro roller rinks and subsequently making a fool of myself at numerous after parties. My fandom was heightened by the energy of the crowd, the culture of unapologetically tough and driven women playing a physically demanding game and, who are we kidding, because derby girls are insanely hot. So when I was afforded the opportunity to check out the “new Australian independent lesbian roller derby feature film,” Star Cross’d Jammers, lez just say I was easily persuaded.
While Whip It! is the most notorious derby movie, there have been a number of films based around the sport. Documentaries Hell on Wheels, Blood on the Flat Track and Brutal Beauties are just a few that have told stories of resurrecting the sport in the 21st century, forming leagues and the self-discovery that it has created for it’s players. Writers Penny Cavanaugh and Michaela Upton chose not to focus on the more typical themes, instead jumping right into the thick of intraleague dating. Because of their approach, Star Cross’d Jammers feels a little bit documentary, a little bit reality TV, in the best possible way.
That could be because as writer, director and stunt double to one of the main stars, Cavanaugh, has been playing roller derby since 2009. Planning to settle down in Chicago to join the Windy City Rollers, she is married to a woman she met at a Xena: Warrior Princess convention in 2009.
“We actually got married at the Xena convention in 2013 and had a wedding photo with Lucy Lawless, Cavanaugh said. “I walked down the aisle to the Xena theme. So gay.”
That being said, entrusting her to find the cross section where romance, derby and comedy overlap seems like a no-brainer.
A romantic comedy that gives many nods to the story of Romeo and Juliet, star-crossed star jammers of opposing roller derby teams, Scabrielle (Imogen Hopper) and Nobody (Kate Logan), fall in love despite their teams’ disapproval. As love parallels the very game they play, they struggle to hide their relationship and overcome obstacles, including a callous captain who will stop at nothing to win the Battle for Verona.
The sport is what gives structure to the meandering love story. First meeting when their teams play each other, Scab of the Capulet Cannons loses to the Montague Magics, where rookie, Nobody, is quickly becoming their new star jammer. The after party is almost as accurately represented as the bouts and, amidst the debauchery, Scab and Nobody have their first go at flirting.
Not often on the losing team, Scab pokes fun at Nobody’s name before assuring her that next time her ass is hers. Now that is the kind of foreshadowing I am into. The Magics’ team captain, Smackerine Fugate (Peita McCulloch), quickly breaks up whatever flirtatious nonsense is going on and, once Scab is gone, Smack explains to Nobody that the teams bitterly despise one another and their conversating is inappropriate, much less a relationship. Moments later, Nobody blatantly disobeys her captain, finding Scab in a stairwell to kiss her.
Their relationship evolves quickly, with Nobody referring to what their doing as “dating” in the next scene as they sit closely watching a bout between the Rocky Mountain and the Gotham Roller Girls. Their talking roller derby quickly turns to innuendo—talkin’ derby, if you will, as Scab waxes on about her favorite player, Psycho Babble’s, control on the track. Nobody responds, saying coyly, “I don’t really have good control,” before leaning in for a kiss.
While at times cheesy, Star Cross’d Jammers tells a sweet love story and I defy you to name a genuine love story that is completely without a little cheese. The true through-line of the film is about the struggle to find a balance between love of the sport and love of another. In a fantasy scene starring the actual Psycho Babble, Scab worries that easing up on the sport will find her with no identity. “Roller derby has made me who I am,” she explains, but Psycho assures her, “No, roller derby has helped you become who you are.”
The movie has enough twists, turns and clever derby names to keep it moving, my personal favorites being The Clap (Sarah Lovai), Tail-Her Swift (Nikki Sharpley), Smasha Fierce (Miyuki Lotz) and Snarla Hooch (Erin Joly). For the discriminating derby fanatics, the bout scenes are as realistic as being in the stands and the awkward flirtation is relatable to anyone who’s fallen in love.