(Warning: Spoiler alert. Just saying.)
It was a shame, really. To be enticed with the premise of a surfing movie with Gerard Butler and an unknown kiddo (you know the deal with unknows: starlets waiting to erupt) got me really excited. Maybe it’s the Oscar season period, when top contenders for movie accolades would typically make their silver screen appearance, thus, validating the belief that every single movie from November to January should feed this gigantic monster of expectations. Even though Chasing Mavericks may not be an Oscar entry, Gerard Butler‘s tough-as-nails character might have made the friendship between his character Frosty Hesson and surfing legend Jay Moriarty (played by Jonny Weston) more endearing and real.
That is not to say Chasing Mavericks is a gone case. There are some really good points in this flick, though.
Set in 1984, Chasing Mavericks is a real-life biopic into the life of Jay Moriarty as he struggles to achieve his dreams of being a top surfer. Don’t expect no surfer dude action from the kiddo though: this is one guy who has his heart in the right place. Jay manages to balance flipping burgers at the joint in town with a regular go at the big waves, to varying degrees of success. Saddled with a hopeless alcoholic mum and a missing dad, Jay is the earnest kid trying to keep the family afloat. Surfing is his escape, and he soon ages and realises that the big maverick waves (as discovered in California in 1994) are there and they are real. Of course, an earnest kid who wants to ride the big ones — we have all been there, no? (Earnestness in Singapore sold separately; we just want to be with the big, bad boys.)
In comes Frosty on stage left. The burly, scruffy fella (and boy, do we love his 300 burly scruffiness) and his three other friends know these waves — thought to be mythical (in the movie) — and risk their lives to get out and get down with them big splashes. Hot-headed Jay is going to attempt one anyway, so before the dude kills himself by not being prepared, Frosty takes Jay under his wing. A few essay assignments, wind observation and weather radio pilfering and the boy is ready to go. Subplot action is rather irregular: we see a bully who gives way to Jay in the final wave, an ignorant mother who suddenly rallies around her son, a girlfriend who escapes the bad boys to be with Jay. Don’t get me wrong: these subplots do exist in real life, but they all seem far too engineered to set it up for the final scene when the only thing Jay has to worry about is the maverick wave of El Niño.
So, okay, I take it as that and settle my ass down to the scene the entire movie is building up to: Jay going against the big guys. Failure #1, failure #2 takes the other shoobies off the radar. Jay and Mr. Big Watery Guy to deal with. He comes crashing down the wave and loses himself in the mix for a few minutes (at this point, I am so invested into this that I curl up in my seat and pray for his goddamn head to make its grand appearance) before going out for try numero dos — of course. He kills it. Nails the bloody piece of shit. I start sobbing at the joy of human triumph. And then, that’s it. A sloppily-arranged montage of magazine covers later, he dies and the surfing community gather in a circle in the water in his honour.
There is no telling it more bluntly: this is not a film for the intellectuals. No subplot-in-plot sequences, no flash-sideways action or parallel worlds: this is a simple, raw tale. If debating about philosophical concepts is your idea of an after-movie discussion, do not watch this movie. (Lest you call it dumb, you smart twat.) I must admit, I was looking for some moralistic arc to contend with: why is the balance between life and ambition so hard to deal with? Why do wilfuly ignorant mothers exist? Are we human or are we dancer? (The appreciative ‘hur hur’ is much acknowledged here.)
In the end, there is really nothing to think about. This is a flick that’s rolling right in front of your eyes: a glimpse into a human’s psyche so far removed from a moviegoer’s. This was Jay and his mission to conquer a wave just for the heck of it. You need to buy it hook, line and sinker to enjoy this movie. What puzzles me here are the cheesy lines and “words of inspiration” that are more “omg did he just say that” than “omg he did just say that”. There is way too much personification of the waves by Jay but maybe that’s how he rolls with it. (A-ha!) However, unit director Philip Hanson and cinematographer Bill Pope have done a brilliant job at framing the waves in all its gorgeous splendour that considering a career in surfing was my mid-movie dilemma.
Director Curtis Hanson and Michael Apted tried to make the script work with nifty camera work and great mise-en-scenes but it is the sloppy script written by Kario Salem that spoils the realness of the picture with a screenwriter’s fictionalised imagination that is way too pretty and, dare I say it, preachy at times. That causes supporting characters like Jay’s girlfriend (played by Levin Ramblin) and Frosty’s wife (played by Abigail Spencer) to be reduced to typical plots: girlfriend gives life to boyfriend, wife dies after passing on good advice.
Chasing Mavericks is a great movie. It really is. If you can get past those curl-in-my-socks lines and the blithely-simple premise, the picture’s scope is at times gorgeous in its cinematic take. What do you do when you’re confronted with a wave? Just ride it and enjoy the moment. The moment you start rationalising, you will fall through the cracks.
Chasing Mavericks is out in movie theatres now.