Chasing Mavericks (2012) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies
27Feb/130

Chasing Mavericks (2012)

Towering reality of natureAndrew INDIFFERENCE BannerFor those of you with any interest in watching Chasing Mavericks, my advice is to skip everything but the last thirty minutes.  In that last act the film came so close to working that I almost broke out into tears at some of the naked emotion.  But then I remembered the aimless first act, the bad acting, and the constant allusions that this takes place in the '90s.  The spell, alas, was broken.

But I'm surprised it worked as well as it did.  Aimless moments aside, Chasing Mavericks did an excellent job of capturing that moment when you're young and you think you have it all figured out.  All Jay (Jonny Weston) needs to do is capture that one perfect wave and everything will be ok.  What is less convincing is how it will stop his mom will stop with the crippling alcoholism, his mentor becoming the perfect husband, his best friend will stop doing whatever he's doing that's eliciting huge wads of money from the local thug, who will stop doing his impersonation of the bad teenagers from The Karate Kid.

He's a teenager, so getting that one wave will fix it all...right?

Gerard Butler is normally the source of scorn, but he's pretty good here.

Gerard Butler is normally the source of scorn, but he's pretty good here.

No, but sometimes it's nice to think so, and that's why Chasing Mavericks almost worked.  Jay has been surfing his entire life.  We're made far too aware of this fact in the nearly twenty minute opening sequence of his childhood where he's saved by his disheveled neighbor, Rusty  (Gerard Butler), who loves the waves almost as much as he loves his family.  By the time Jay is a teenager into all manner of extreme sports Rusty has reversed the love flow so that his understandably impatient wife (Abigail Spencer, wringing a lot out of very little) is tired with the ocean.

The stage is set quite awkwardly.  There are sudden transitions from childhood to the teenage years, '90s technology placed at weird moments, and a soundtrack that is insistent on reminding folks of what bands were popular.  I'm comforted to know that The Offspring held promise at one point, but the movie assaults us with the era instead of being informed by it.  By the time we find out Jay is into all sorts of sports now considered extreme it rings as a hollow cliche of reproduction instead of his driving desire in life.  This is absolutely fatal in a film where existence or lack thereof is literally hanging on the kid taking the giant waves he discovers while hitching a ride on top of Rusty's van.

There's a weird dichotomy at play.  For every moment lovingly remembered, like when Rusty presents Jay with a hand-crafted surfboard to tame the giant wave, there are similar moments that ring out from the memories of a kid who couldn't let go of high school.  The local bad kid (Taylor Handley) exists primarily to flesh out the run-time and deliver bad threats in an even worse accent.  It's hard to out-do bad accents in a film with Gerard Butler, but here we are.

The direction lends a feeling of the sublime not just to the waves that could kill Jay, but the emotion that's kept a bit too sterile.

The direction lends a feeling of the sublime not just to the waves that could kill Jay, but the emotion that's kept a bit too sterile.

To be less glib, Butler really isn't bad here.  In fact, it's probably the best use of his limited range since 300 and he makes a pretty good reluctant mentor.  Part of it is because of Butler's puppy dog eyes are that effective but he also has learned a bit about dialing down his supporting performance as a reactive instead of bluntly emotional force.  It may not be surprising, but it works.

However, the confusing direction belongs to our lead.  In child and teenage casting, Jay is a boring and by-the-books innocent guy who couldn't hurt a guppy.  He's dull, doesn't even have the kind of self-presence to acknowledge the cartoon villain in his life, is able to hold down unseen jobs to support his broken mother, and generally annoys everyone.  This isn't a great writing or acting template for a protagonist - then we see the real Jay Moriarity over the end credits and the difference is astonishing.  He is shifty, nervous, excitable, passionate, and proudly wearing those traits in the minute we spend with him.

Why wasn't a film made around this man instead?  We don't need vanilla inspiration because it takes a special kind of crazy to try and outfox waves the size of small apartment complexes.  What this needs is some dirt.  In this setting, it would have been commendable.

Chasing Mavericks - TailChasing Mavericks (2012)
Directed by Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson.
Screenplay written by Brandon Hooper and Kario Salem.
Starring Jonny Weston and Gerard Butler.

 

Posted by Andrew

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