‘Chasing Mavericks’ offers a comforting life lesson

By Gary Clift

A couple of the best directors of gentle movies—Michael Apted and Curtis Hanson—shared directing credits for the new film “Chasing Mavericks.”

Hanson may be best known for having made ‘L.A. Confidential” and “8 Mile,” but he also directed “In Her Shoes,” “Wonder Boys,” and “The River Wild.” Apted did make the Bond movie “The World Is Not Enough,” but his reputation depends more on “Gorillas in the Mist,” “Nell,” and “The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”

All of these are good movies. All of them were made with imagination. Like them, “Chasing Mavericks” can be pictorial—surf movies almost always are. And though it offers viewers a version of the Rocky plot, it isn’t really about its story. It is about something nearly spiritual. So it fits right in with some of Apted’s and some of Hanson’s previous films.

The plot, “based on a true story,” is that a California boy named Jay Moriarity (Jonny Weston) wanted to learn to surf huge and dangerous waves whipped in by El Nino. Luckily he and his deserted and sometimes drunken mother (Elizabeth Shue) lived down the block from experienced “Maverick” surfer Frosty (Gerard Butler).

Frosty trains Jay. They bond. Ma learns from her son’s work ethic. Frosty becomes proud of Jay, who helps him when his own wife (played effectively by Abigail Spencer) dies. Upright Jay attracts his own love object, Kim (Leven Rambin) and fends off a local bully, vandal, and drug dealer.

Then the weather radios signal that the big waves are coming. All the story’s living characters go out to the beach where hundreds have gathered to watch the fifty foot waves come in. Will Jay be successful in riding this wild surf?

By the time of the climax, it is already clear that the movie doesn’t care so much if the pretty blonde kid catches a big wave as it does that he prepared himself to do so. The movie is selling a variety of Coach Snyder’s Sixteen Goals for Success. It is what Jay learns about application and content (Frosty has him writing themes) that give him the significant life victory no matter what happens on big surf day.

The film goes to lengths to remind us that human victory is temporary—it includes funerals for two of its characters. But never mind that. It is the striving, the film insists, that is important.

Now, the movie is gentle enough that it has its weaknesses. It relies too much on the beauties of nature for my taste. Pretty Weston doesn’t much command the screen. And the inspirational air of the film reminded me too much of the last surf movie I saw, “Soul Surfer,” about the girl who lost an arm to a shark but continued to surf competitively.

But these are pretty minor gunches. “Chasing Mavericks” is not a movie offering constant excitement, but a movie offering a comforting life lesson. It doesn’t drag. It is never boring. And in the end the viewer feels a little something.

So it is a pretty good representative of the qualities shared by the movies directed by Hanson and Apted, qualities which set them apart from movies made by most other directors.

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