Blue Hawaii

'Blue Crush' captures the glory of surfing and the indignity of the teen movie

To be a girl surfer is even cooler, wilder, and more modern than being a guy surfer.

--Susan Orlean, The Bullfighter Checks Her Makeup: My Encounter With Extraordinary People

 

Blue Crush is a Pearson's Salted Nut Roll of a movie: a toothsome crunch on the outside, a non-surprise of vacuous whiteness within. Screenwriters Lizzy Weiss and director John Stockwell claim they were inspired by Susan Orlean's 1998 article about Maui surfer girls,

"The Maui Surfer Girls" (at least the filmmakers have come up with a better title). And the movie does begin to portray a tight subculture where young women are beautiful not because they want to be but because they're skillful and confident and just crazy enough--that's youth--to keep paddling out and battling brain-battering surf. (The movie fully portrays the brain-battering surf.) At some point, though, Weiss or Stockwell chickened out and brought in Pretty Woman, and the deal, as they say, was done.

Relative unknowns Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez (The Fast and the Furious, Girlfight), and Sanoe Lake play Anne Marie, Eden, and Lena, respectively. In their Hawaiian post-high-school limbo, they surf anytime they're not sleeping or working as hotel maids to underwrite their natty swimsuits, cell phones, and beachfront shack. Their sole ambition seems to be launching Anne Marie into the sponsor-perked world of professional surfing (Eden has a flimsily written board-building hobby). Anne Marie, however, is still recovering her nerve from a near-drowning. She's also attempting to raise her sullen 14-year-old sister Penny (Mika Boorem), their single mother having decamped with a lover. A teasing crowd of hunky boys admires the young women from the sidelines--potential romantic interest.

If the filmmakers had stopped right there, they'd have made hella movie: focused and particular. The nervous question underlying Orlean's celebrative piece was: What comes after this young and beautiful moment--when the surfer girls have to support themselves? When they begin to wade through the fallout of their often-fractured home lives? Anne Marie, Eden, and Lena are at that cusp when surfing becomes either a profession or an after-work pastime. That moment implies enough drama for me. Instead, Weiss and Stockwell invent an NFL quarterback with a crush on Anne Marie. Huh?

The introduction of Matt (Matthew Davis) and his vacationing linemen (Faizon Love does the fat black buffoon thing) skews the plot so far out of line you could build a luxury hotel inside the detour. Which is exactly what the filmmakers do. And former maid Anne Marie gets to swim in the pool and order all she wants from food service. The QB hands her a sheaf of money, ostensibly for surfing lessons but also "to keep [her] around," or some such whoring BS. Is this the fantasy of a Maui surfer girl? Even a scared one? (Two of Orlean's surfer girls, granted imaginary riches, chose a moped, a watch, new flip-flops, tons of surf clothes, and the wild orange-red hair of a surfer-girl hero.)

Character information cannot animate Matt's Ken-doll façade. And for long stretches all the other characters are relegated to loafing around somewhere offscreen. As they say in the business, what a waste of a wave.

 

Blue Crush makes you taste the waste. Stockwell's crazy/beautiful goosed the teen movie with its textured, color-drenched L.A., and from the first shot it's obvious Blue Crush will look equally sensuous. The surfing footage is visceral enough that I kept tensing against the roll; I've never seen a surfer filmed from beneath the wave, nor seen the curling turbine of a wave from below. Water-camera operator Don King, who directed photography on Endless Summer II, provides more than a few riveting moments, the best of which is one lingering, almost mournful shot on the ocean bottom.

Meanwhile, Stockwell brings in pro female surfers to stunt for the actors in the big surf scenes and to play themselves in a pipe competition--ensuring a level of skill that is its own message. In the same casual way, Blue Crush assumes a multi-ethnic society, featuring Filipino, white, native, Latino, black, etc., matter-of-factly, albeit superficially (the exception being the stereotypically goofy black linemen and their diamond-flashing girlfriends; another misstep of the NFL tangent). Sure, it'd be hard to ignore Hawaii's racial diversity, but Hollywood has done it before, more than once.

Stockwell is respectful, too, of young people--he gets their flexibility and energy, and especially their sadness and uncertainty, their defensiveness. He convinces me these Oahu surfer girls have stories to tell. Then he steers the camera away to re-create Cinderella. Given writers like Orlean and girls like the Maui surfers, it's getting harder to ignore the complexities of girls' lives. But Hollywood has done it more than once. And oops! they'll do it again.

 
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