I was dreading having to sit through Chasing Mavericks. The trailer left me more than unenthused to watch another melodramatic inspirational story; Dolphin Tale was enough. Yet to my surprise, Chasing Mavericks was not that bad of a film, despite Gerard Butler’s distractingly puffy face and the film’s stereotypical dramatic conventions.
Chasing Mavericks is the real life story of how 16-year-old Jay Moriarity managed to surf one of the Earth’s largest waves during a massive tropical storm, El Niño. Obsessed with tides and surfing, an adolescent Jay finds pleasure in counting the time in between waves; the higher the count, the faster his heart races in excitement. After a near drowning accident, Jay is saved by his neighbor and surfing pro, Frosty (Gerard Butler). Jay begins to seek Frosty’s guidance on becoming a professional surfer capable of surfing the largest waves in his home town of Santa Cruz. Jay soon discovers that the mythical Maverick, the largest wave on the coast, is real and surfable. With Frosty’s help Jay trains hard becoming the youngest surfer to ride the Maverick.
The best thing about any surf film is the beautiful shots of ocean that are required to tell the story. Directed by Chris Hanson, Chasing Mavericks seems to have been directed by a surf advocate with a true affinity to water and the enigma of tides. The film is filled with gorgeous long shots of the ocean showcasing its frothy whites, sea foam greens, and lustrous blues. Most of the shots capture action on and under the water, while the long shots expose viewers to the wide depths of water that surfers find themselves in, allowing viewers to appreciate the life threatening risks that surfers take just to ride a wave.
Also Jonny Weston as Jay is just precious and probably the most adorable thing I’ve seen on screen since that kid in Kindergarten Cop. With his curly blond hair and sincere smile, Weston captures a childlike innocence that makes his struggle and devotion believable. When he strives to win, you can’t help but cheer him on and when he fails I couldn’t help but feel genuine sympathy.
But seriously though, was this kid not the cutest thing in existence in the 90s?
A melodramatic inspirational film can only be so different from the rest. Chasing Mavericks takes the generic route, leaving barley any room for surprises. Sure it’s based on true story, but that doesn’t stop it from using all the safe conventional modes, making it at times corny and trite. If I had the time and ability to, I’d put together a Youtube video consisting of frequently used shots in films throughout the years. Such as when a 9-year-old Jay attempts to surf for the first time; audiences are delivered the proverbial shots of skeptic onlookers scoffing and shaking their heads at such a silly kid for being in over his head. When something threatening takes place, the standard shot reverse shot of others reacting happens. These shots just make for bland moments that make Chasing Mavericks safe and forgettable.
While Jay’s story is well roundedly developed, the film’s subplots aren’t. For starters, to add more conflict to the film we are introduced to Sonny, a bitter angry miserable teen who for some reason has a seven year grudge against the sickeningly sweet Jay. He’s never even given any rhyme or reasoning for disliking Jay; sure he’s jealous, but that’s never discussed, and for seven years!? Also the death of a major character is never delved into. This happens quickly with no forewarning as an attempt to advance the development of another character.
And what is up with the weird anti-drug PSA that sporadically happens? Jay discovers that his best friend Blond is selling pot, but it’s never talked about or gone into detail. Instead there’s about a two minute scene every so often throughout the film of Blond making an exchange to which afterwards he and Jay share awkward glances or quick comments about Jay being “too perfect” to get it.
Come on dude, you live in California, you’re a surfer, and you expect me to believe you don’t smoke weed?
Chasing Mavericks would have probably been much better with the absence of Gerard Butler. His character is your typical mentor with a chip on his shoulder. Perhaps it was the choice of the director or Butler, but either way he makes Frosty an unlikable character. Nearly everything out of his mouth is a condescending comment or command at Jay and he seems pissed through the first half of the movie that Jay even wants to learn to surf, despite the two being identical in their obsession with tides.
In one scene Jay delivers Frosty an essay that was assigned to him to discuss what he observed while on the water. Jay, a 16-year-old boy, instead writes a heartfelt essay about observing his long time crush Kim. Frosty becomes outraged, yelling at the boy in front of his wife and kids until his wife, Brenda, takes him to the bedroom to relax him while he continues to rant about Jay having no respect. The scene is so over the top I literally laughed out loud.
Chasing Mavericks could have worse, but it also could have been better. It’s a safe film that is surprisingly heartwarming and actually made me close to tearing up at the end. However, it’s nothing to write home about. If you catch it it’s interesting, but bring some booze first.
Take a Drink: every time someone rides a wave.
Take a Drink: every time Blond gets awkward stares after selling drugs.
Take a Drink: every time people walk over Jay and he smiles on.