After watching Chasing Mavericks at a San Clemente theatre on Friday, I was once again reminded of why Hollywood surf movies are doomed to fail. Regardless of their intentions, filmmakers need to appeal to a mainstream audience while attempting to stay true to the subject matter. The general rule is (with the exception of maybe, The Endless Summer) the closer a film gets to appealing to the hardcore surf audience, the bigger the flop. Conversely, films that do well at the box office are the ones that seem to revile us the most. When a film gets caught somewhere in-between, nobody is satisfied, or worse, they leave the theatre feeling ambivalent. Sadly, Chasing Mavericks falls into this trap.
The very existence of Chasing Mavericks is example of Hollywood’s atavism. If natural selection worked in Hollywood the way it does everywhere else, the surf film genre would be long-since extinct. Live-action surf films rarely succeed on a financial or cultural level, yet studios continue to give them the green light. It’s not surprising then, that the latest incarnation has performed as predicted: taking in a paltry $2.2 million on its opening weekend.
But one thing is certain, the failure of the film isn’t the result of flawed surf sequences (that honor belongs to the film’s clichéd plot devices and tepid script.) The real stars of the film are the big-wave surfers who left everything out in the water while shooting the stunts for Jay Moriarty’s fateful session at Mavericks. The result is the most realistic (and terrifying) surf scenes that Hollywood has been able to conjure. The surf sequences help the film exceed the jaded surfer’s low expectations for the genre, but are unable to rescue it from its inherent pitfalls.
Of course, like any invested movie-goer, I found myself caught up in Moriarty’s inspirational story, chuckling when I saw people I know delivering cheesy one-liners, and shuffling uncomfortably in my seat when the fury of the Pacific unloaded at Mavericks. But upon sober reflection, the finished product merely blends into the din of Hollywood mediocrity. There is substance in there somewhere, but in the quest to find a balance between mainstream appeal and sincerity, we’re left with another Hollywood depiction that fails to overcome the barriers of hardened surf cynicism and, based on the figures from its opening weekend, has already failed to connect with its target audience.