‘Chasing Mavericks’ wins high marks for its story, cinematography and illuminating the legend that was Jay Moriarity
Hollywood and the surfing communities viewpoint have not always portrayed the surf culture as one of honor and prestige. Surfing is a right of passage from the time you step into the water your first time. The line-up changes; never are two waves the same or two surfers. It has an unwritten set of codes that if you truly surf—you know what I mean—that we follow and enforce. There is always a pecking order, no matter how long you surf or how good you are. There is a veritable math equation that takes place when one of the boys paddles out.
To please the Santa Cruz surfing community, you have to be more than good—you have to be great. Jay Moriarity was more than great because he created a movement, dubbed “Live Like Jay,” in his passing in 2001—the prince was taken from the surf breaks of Pleasure Point in Santa Cruz way too young (at the age of 22 in an accident in the Indian Ocean). Moriarity left such an impression that, 11 years later it still feels as if he died yesterday.
Enter Chasing Mavericks, the big-screen version of Moriarity’s life, filmed locally, and which is based on the true story of the surf icon’s bond and friendship with mentor Richard “Frosty” Hesson (played by Gerard Butler). Mirroring real-life, the film finds Moriarity (Jonny Weston) and Frosty meeting at a time when Jay is a teen and when they needed each other the most.
Take a life-building story filled with grief on both sides, mix in the right amount of teen angst and you find yourself in Chasing Mavericks, which also boasts a romantic storyline in which Jay meets his future wife Kim, all while learning the ropes to surf Mavericks. Sprinkle in the right amount of authenticity and you can see—perhaps feel—that Hollywood nailed it. The screenwriters (Jim Meenaghan and Brandon Hooper) took the right approach here, using the right surfers, and were adamant about shooting in Santa Cruz.
The cinematography in Chasing Mavericks also stands out. In fact, at times, it’s absolutely amazing—the angles were right for big-wave surfing and the filmmakers managed to capture the essence of what Mavericks can serve up. When the Huli Cat boat almost flipped over on the movie because a set swung wide at Mavericks, the boat had to literally jump over the lip. That is all how it really goes down on a big day out at Mavericks.
As for the surfers the filmmakers chose to use in the film, they’re a well known local bunch—Peter Mel, Zach Wormhoudt and Greg Long are all premier big-wave surfers that have proven themselves. The surfing level combined with the premier quality of equipment (Multiple RED cameras) used allows the storyline here to naturally endorse the surfing that was filmed.
Newcomer Weston engulfs himself in the lead role of Moriarity, a young man eager to pursue his dream of surfing Mavericks, getting the girl and becoming a top-notch waterman. Weston’s ability to portray the innocence of Moriarity is handled well—it comes across through his interactions with his peers who betray him and his ability to forgive and stay positive.
Butler, as Jay’s mentor, helps sculpt Jay into the person he desires to become. Multiple levels of grief are introduced into Frosty’s character here, in bits and pieces. Having lost his parents at a young age—which draws a barrier to Frosty being emotionally connected with his own family—finds a path to redemption by working with Jay to train and become a man. Right when he starts to open up emotionally, his wife has a stroke and eventually passes away, leaving Frosty in a state of shock. Young Jay is the saving grace as Frosty continues to pour himself into mentoring his young protégé.
From that first paddle out, Jay’s surfing progresses and Chasing Mavericks takes us along as the young teenager rips the waves at Pleasure Point. (And for all you surfers out there, Hollywood contracted with some of the best surfers in the industry, so the surfing in this movie is legit.)
Living with an alcoholic parent who struggled raising a child on her own, Moriarity worked at Pleasure Pizza, often supporting his mother. He realized that Frosty was surfing a wave that most thought was a myth. In the film, Frosty begins the process to train Jay for Mavericks, but it’s the life training he provides to Jay that matters the most. Remove the surfing piece in this film and this is a movie about a man schooling his protégé about the pillars of life and to accept his fears—but not panic.
The film’s soundtrack is well intertwined with the appropriate scores, time-associated band flyers and music rounding the realistic atmosphere. Writers Meenaghan and Hooper spent proper time to make the screenplay authentic to the characters and the story itself. Directors Michael Apted (Coalminer’s Daughter, The Chronicles of Narnia) and Curtis Hanson (L.A. Confidential, Too Big to Fail) bring their rich knowledge and execute what could become a blockbuster.
Bottom line? Chasing Mavericks will put you in the state of mind to, as the now-famous saying goes, “Live Like Jay,” and to preserve every moment you can because life is short. Already being dubbed the feel-good movie of the year by some, it’s a nice surprise that the basics of a great story, done the right way with the right people, can produce such a memorable and effective cinematic ride.
*** 1/2 (out of four)
A 20th Century Fox release. Starring Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston and Elisabeth Shue.
Directed by Curtis Hansen and Michael Apted.
Based on the true story of Jay Moriarity. Rated PG. For more visit http://www.LiveLikeJay.com .