is the inspirational true story of real life surfing phenom Jay Moriarity (played by newcomer Jonny Weston). When 15 year old Jay discovers that the mythic Mavericks surf break, one of the biggest waves on Earth, is not only real, but exists just miles from his Santa Cruz home, he enlists the help of local legend Frosty Hesson (played by Gerard Butler) to train him to survive it. As Jay and Frosty embark on their quest to accomplish the impossible, they form a unique friendship that transforms both their lives, and their quest to tame Mavericks becomes about far more than surfing. Chasing Mavericks
was made with the help of some of the biggest names in the surfing world, and features some of the most mind-blowing real wave footage ever captured on film.
Chasing Mavericks, directed by Curtis Hanson (with some additional assistance from Michael Apted) and starring Gerard Butler and Jonny Weston, is a by the numbers surfing movie in every sense - a middling crowd pleaser that doesn't elevate its source material but plays it safe whenever possible. Based on the true story of Jay Moriarty (Weston), the film follows the Santa Cruz native in his quest to surf some of the biggest waves Southern California (nee the world) has to offer, called "mavericks." Of course, Moriarty couldn't possibly achieve such a feat alone because despite being a natural on the board, surfing these mavericks requires much more than skill. And so Moriarty seeks out the assistance of his neighbor, Frosty Hesson (Butler), who has been surfing mavericks for the better part of a decade, and who conveniently is a major source of inspiration for Moriarty. Hesson begrudgingly takes Jay on as a prodigy, but promises to put him through a rigorous regime that will test him mentally, physically, and emotionally - you know, to prove that surfing is more than just an extreme sport but a lifestyle.
As the story progresses through its necessary story beats, we are treated to closer looks at both Jay and Frosty's personal lives, which are rife with their own sources of conflict. Frosty's relationship with his family is constantly tested by his emotionally distant personality, but his budding connection to Jay helps him overcome a lot of his issues. It's an attempt by Hanson to humanize the character of Frosty as more than just a mentor, but it's far too conventional to be anything extraordinary.
Jay's life, on the other hand, is filled with its own problems: the girl he's always had a thing for ignores him, his best friend continuously runs with the wrong crowd, and his single mother can barely keep focused enough to maintain a minimum wage job. But those are all passable sources of drama and conflict in the film, whereas the inclusion of a major antagonist for Jay -- a stereotypical bully character -- makes it very clear that Chasing Mavericks isn't trying to be anything more than an average coming-of-age movie.
The real life story of Jay Moriarty is a compelling one, and is well known to any who follow the sport of surfing, it;s just unfortunate that Chasing Mavericks turns it into a rote, goal-oriented melodrama. There are far too many predictable highs and lows for both Frosty and Jay, although there is one moment that elicits some genuine emotion. If the film had reveled more in the sport of surfing and put less of a focus on playing it safe with typical dramatic story beats it would have made Chasing Mavericks feel like more of a unique cinematic experience and less like a somewhat entertaining Lifetime Network movie.
On a positive note, all the actors involved in Chasing Mavericks do a great job, even when placed in some pretty stereotypical roles. Weston and Butler as Jay and Frosty have a great on-screen chemistry, and it is a joy to watch their budding relationship grow. Butler is asked to carry a lot of the film as a character he's not used to playing, and he succeeds at making Frosty the dynamic mentor figure he needed to be. Frosty's unconventional training regime and his relationship with Jay at times reminded me of Mr. Miyagi and Daniel-san in The Karate Kid, or maybe it was just the presence of Elisabeth Shue as Jay's mom.
Nevertheless, the crowd-pleasing that is expected of a film like Chasing Mavericks does come through, if only by virtue of the performances of its actors. Even though it's hard not to believe the boy will achieve his goal, get the girl, and make peace with the bully, it's still impressive to know that a 16-year old kid really did surf these massive waves. So, to that end, relative newcomer Weston should be commended for making Jay Moriarty come to life.
October 26, 2012