If you want to ride this movie the way its heroine rides the waves, the best thing to do is bring a walkman and a really good pair of headphones and watch it while listening to your favorite assortment of surfer hits. A compilation of Beach Boys, Jan and Dean, and, of course, the classic Surfari rendition of “Wipeout” will be a far better accompaniment to this movie’s visuals than the dreary attempt at story, acting, and dialogue.
And oh, those visuals! Some of the most glorious cinematography of the year takes you right inside those Hawaiian “pipe” waves that the big-time surfers master. Hawaii’s glorious natural resources, including many very pretty girls in very tiny bikinis, are lovingly photographed.
The story is one of those eye-of-the-tiger, Flashdance on a surfboard, will she believe in herself enough to follow her dream sagas with no special insight or freshness. Kate Bosworth plays Ann Marie, a cute tough-on-the-outside-but-vulnerable-on-the-inside surfer girl who has what it takes to be world-class if she can just (1) get over the fear she has had since almost drowning, (2) manage to train for her big chance while supporting herself and her younger sister, and (3) not get distracted by Prince Charming, a cute quarterback named Matt. Pals played by Michele Rodriguez and real-life surfer Sanoe Lake provide support.
The surfing scenes are breathtaking and by themselves worth the price of a ticket. The water is the most vivid and memorable character in the movie. MTV-style camera tricks will be annoying to some, but there are no tricks that can spoil the shots of the massive, thundering, walls of water that writhe like a sea serpent the size of a skyscraper.
The three actresses have a nice, easy camaraderie and it is easy to believe that they have lived together forever with a mixture of familial bickering and unquestioned loyalty and understanding. I was especially impressed with the surfer sisterhood that had one of the world champions taking time in the middle of a competition to give encouragement to a young competitor. And it was nice that Prince Charming (Matthew Davis, last seen as the boy who broke Reese Witherspoon’s heart in Legally Blonde), when asked for advice, instead provides support for Ann Marie and gently reminds her that she is a girl who does not need anyone else’s advice.
On the other hand, amidst all of this female empowerment there are some issues that make the characters less than ideal role models. Parents should know that Ann Marie accepts a lot of money ($1000 for “surfing lessons”) and expensive gifts from the quarterback. She has sex with him after knowing him for a couple of days and then is horrified to overhear a conversation that makes her think that he does not think of her as marriage material.
Parents should also know that the movie has strong language and a lot of vulgarity for a PG-13. We see a mess in a toilet bowl and a used condom. Ann Marie is a poor guardian for her 14-year-old sister. She chases after her sister when she sneaks out to go to a raucous party and worries about her smoking and ditching school, but makes very little effort to set an example or impose limits. Parents of younger kids who want to see a movie about two sisters in Hawaii who go surfing should watch Lilo and Stitch.
Families who see this movie should talk about the obstacles Ann Marie must overcome – not just the finding a way to support herself and doing all the training but overcoming her fears of failing and of succeeding. Some viewers may conclude that her attraction to Matt was in part a way to give herself an excuse not to do her best in the competition. Families might also want to talk about the way that the Hawaiian natives feel about the tourists (one tells a tourist to leave the beach he likes to surf, saying “We grew here; you flew here”).
Families who enjoy this movie will enjoy the surfer classic The Endless Summer and the recent documentary about the beginning of extreme skateboarding, Dogtown and Z-Boys. And of course there’s always Gidget!