Chasing Mavericks

In our desperate gambit to avoid seeing Amour, we’ve been grasping at whatever movie might be passable entertainment, even if it’s not something we’re really into. (Because we’re really not into old French people dying.) Which brings us to this surfing movie, Chasing Mavericks.

“It’s a surfing movie” is about what we knew about it, and also that the critics didn’t like it much, but audiences seemed okay with it.

And? We liked it. It turns out to be a biopic of a surfer named Jay Moriarty (Johnny Weston), who latches on to a surfer bum, Frosty (Gerard Butler), and uses surfing to give his life direction, culminating in an ambition to ride the Mavericks, mythical waves of titanic proportions that only the most skilled surfers can survive.

Based on a true story, as noted, this takes place in 1994. And I remember this time. A surfer (not Moriarty) died at Mavericks. (My reaction at the time was to think they were stupid, but I’m less judgmental now.)

Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential) directs, though Michael Apted (56 Up) took over in the last few weeks as Hanson had to bow out for health issues.

As a cinematic experience, it starts out with a very After School Special feeling. Jay is a really, really good kid. His mom (Elizabeth Shue, House At The End Of The Street) is single (of course), alcoholic-y, and borrows money from him, even as he’s saving up for a surf radio. (It tells you where the big tides are.)

To top it off, he hangs around Frosty—who has the coolest wife in the world (played by Abigail Spencer) and has peer problems with his best bud, Blond (Devin Crittenden) and his potential girlfriend, Kim (Leven Rambin, “All My Children”).

So, yeah. It’s hard to escape that After School feel, but after a while, it settles into the surfing groove, and the character of Jay is one that’s hard not to like. He’s not perfect, but he radiates the kind of serenity that comes from dedication to a—well, in this case surfing, but any of the arts that promote that Zen state.

I tend to judge a movie like this based on how I feel about what the characters are pursuing. Like, I don’t call it The Perfect Storm, I call it Five Idiots In A Boat. Maybe it’s the storytelling, maybe it’s the characters, or maybe it’s that there’s a difference between risking your life for a paycheck versus doing it for a spiritual reason.

Normally, actually, I think I’d be more sympathetic toward the people making a living, and thinking the people risking their lives “for fun” are being irresponsible. In fact Frosty’s and his wife have a showdown over his responsibility to her and their children versus his desire to surf dangerous waves.

I dunno. It won me over. Made me wanna surf. Wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out, and if you don’t look up the guy beforehand (I didn’t), it can be pretty suspenseful.

The kids liked it, though The Boy did note that TV movie quality in the beginning. It won him over, too. Maybe we’ll do some surfing this summer.

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