By Diane Barnes
Star Cross’d Jammers pairs two women from Australian roller-derby teams in a clandestine love affair rendered taboo by the competitiveness of their sport. The result is an occasionally hot, action-infused love fantasy marred by storytelling that wipes out in the movie’s second half.
The arena looms large in the lives of the starring skaters; they find their romantic spark minutes after facing off on the rink, and they soon begin cooing to each other in their noms de guerre. “Nobody” and “Scabrielle” serve as their team’s “jammers,” with final responsibility to score points for their side. (The film assumes an acquaintance with roller-derby rules, but the Internet offers plenty of rundowns.) The players agree not to cut each other breaks during derby bouts, but their secret loyalty to each other generates friction with teammates and ultimately forces each jammer to come to terms with her priorities.
The clash between the newborn romance and older team commitments contains a whiff of Romeo and Juliet that the film exploits relentlessly. The skaters make references to Shakespeare’s play in their dialogue, in their team names (the Montague Magics and Capulet Cannons), and in the title of a key match (the Battle for Verona). Its punk-rock soundtrack and the washed-out neon palette of its derby bouts call to mind Wild & Crazy Kids more than Elizabethan tragedy, and there would be nothing wrong with that if the script weren’t so distractingly ambitious.
The film shines brightest during encounters between its lead actresses. Nobody and Scabrielle convey a joyously real chemistry, and the ebb and flow of their sexual tension receives too little screen time before the relationship begins to fray around its edges. As one evening scene begins to heat up, the action abruptly cuts to the next morning, when the couple—wearing the same clothes they had on the night before—proceeds to discuss roller derby tactics between the sheets of Scabrielle’s bed.
The story then barrels through a hodgepodge of derby action sequences and character backstories. Such expository material would make sense if it helped to shed light on the direction of the jammers’ relationship.
Despite the confusing ending, the love that went into the movie is so palpable that it’s difficult to hate. “We are independent filmmakers who all have full-time jobs in real life,” its Web site says. For fans prepared to weather its shortcomings, Star Cross’d Jammers may be the perfect cure for the lack of girl-on-girl subtext in Whip It, the far slicker derby flick that starred Ellen Page when she was still closeted.
Star Cross’d Jammers is slated for DVD release and will be available from the film’s official Web site.