The recurring image in “Chasing Mavericks” is that of a monumental surf break, the mythical Mavericks—waves that crash down with white, foamy fury and reach ridiculous heights. The person chasing them is Jay Moriarity (try saying that five times fast), who begins the film as a young eight-year-old (Cooper Timberline) obsessed with timing breaks and tides, to a talented 15-year-old surfer (Jonny Weston) who made history when he took on the Mavericks at such a young age.
So he chased a big wave and rode it. If there were ever a more blatant metaphor to somebody following their dreams and capturing them released in theatres this year, I haven’t seen it—even if a film like “Chasing Mavericks” is hardly the best offering of such overly-inspirational sentiment.
But it works. “Chasing Mavericks” is a Lifetime movie with some actual life to it—lending tender observation to the idea that dreams are sitting out there waiting to be seized, even when it is something as terrifying as a towering wave. And it lends a certain emotional gravitas to the story when you learn that Moriarity, whose true story dictates the film, was killed at the young age of 22 by drowning.
So in many ways, Jay’s dream of surfing gave him just as much life as it did his eventual death, but it lends an interesting theme to “Chasing Mavericks” about simply seizing the day. Footage of Moriarity during the credits, discussing how short our time is and how we need to do what we love is something both inspirational and haunting.
The story is such a hokey combo of Hallmark sentiment swirled with those speakers who used to come to my high school and provided students with anecdotes meant to inspire. It’s hackneyed and overly sentimental and puffed up to a thematic altitude that frequently feels unrealistic, but “Chasing Mavericks” manages to keep its hold steady on this particular story it wishes to tell.
And it accomplishes such a feat and plays to various strengths, such as the finely shot wave photography (“surf porn” as a colleague put it) and interesting character arcs.
But the movie still can’t surpass its weaknesses in script—embodying constant clichés in dialogue and a tedious, formulaic pacing—or acting. The big dramatic anchor of the film is meant to be Gerard Butler, playing Moriarity’s mentor and father figure Frosty Hesson, but just like the actor’s dramatic venture in “Machine Gun Preacher” I can’t seem to buy him in the role. Butler tries, oh boy does he try, but to no avail unfortunately.
This film spoke to my personal sentiments while not necessarily capturing my personal tastes. It’s an interesting directing combo of Curtis Hanson, continuing a curious resume that includes “L.A. Confidential” and “8 Mile,” and Michael Apted who helms the popular “Seven Up” documentaries.
Together, Hanson’s style and Apted’s flair for capturing the phenomena of growing up combine to create “Chasing Mavericks”—which sometimes feels like watching a gorgeous wave crash against the coast, yet almost just as often feels like sand in your shorts. It’s a story worth chasing, with a movie that just about manages to pull off telling it.
Greg Vellante is a film critic for The Eagle Tribune.