Big Wednesday: Any Good?

Ranking the coming-of-age tale on the anniversary of its release

Big Wednesday came out 39 years ago this week. Which makes it old enough to contemplate scheduling its first colonoscopy, gnash its teeth in worry over its roller-coastering 401k, and finally put the last of its sub-6’0″ shortboards out to the Craigslist pasture.

It’s also a nice, easy, jumping-off point for a post about Big Wednesday‘s place in the Hollywood surf film hierarchy.

Recently, I popped a beer, kicked up my heels, and reacquainted myself with Leroy the Masochist, Matt the Drunk ex-Malibu Hero, and Jack the Responsible One. When it came to these three scenes, it was a tear-welling nostalgia fest:

“The Party Crashers” — “The Enforcer” rolls down the stairs like a blonde Lou Ferigno and smashes people’s skulls into dust. I hope Malibu parties in the ’60s really were like this.

“Ditching the Draft” — The Malibu lokes pull out all the stops to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam War. Bonus points for the dude who pretends to be blind.

“The Big Reunion” — After decades of separation by adult life, Matt, Jack, and Leroy reunite at Malibu for the titular “Big Wednesday” sequence. All past transgressions forgiven, it’s just a few buds going for the surf of their lives. Schmaltzy as hell, but sorta believable.

The rest of it, though: Dull papfest. Big Wednesday was panned by critics (formulaic, hokey) and ignored by audiences when it first hit theaters, before enjoying a resurrection as a Saturday afternoon, video store classic. Until The North Shore and Point Break came along, Big Wednesday was easily Hollywood’s best surfy effort. It did have its charming moments, like the scene above with a hungover Matt Johnson styling on a borrowed board. It also provided Gary Busey’s best surf movie line—”I think I’ll throw my food on you”—until the legendary, “Utah — get me two,” line of Point Break lore.

UNOFFICIAL ALL-TIME HOLLYWOOD SURF MOVIE RANKINGS

  1. The North Shore
  2. Point Break
  3. BIG WEDNESDAY
  4. Surf’s Up
  5. In God’s Hands

And as a sidenote, my holy god, have you seen what’s befallen Jan Michael Vincent, the actor who played Matt Johnson, and, later, Stringfellow Hawke (!) in Airwolf? Lost a leg to disease, beset with booze and money troubles, that chiseled bit of ’70s and ’80s Hollywood perfection has fallen from the stars in a big way.

From this
Jan Michael Vincent: From this…
to this
…to this.