By JENNIFER WARDELL
Really good sports movies are equally willing capable of making the audience cheer and cry, and often try to do both before the credits roll. They’re the modern version of heroic odes, full of equal measures of tragedy and glory.
“Chasing Mavericks,” starring Gerard Butler and relative unknown Jonny Weston, manages to turn a surfing story into a beautiful, heart-wrenching epic about parents and children and young lives burning bright. The movie is really all about love, which comes shining through even if you don’t know anything about waves or paddle boards.
The movie follows one summer in the early teenage years of real-life surfing legend Jay Moriarty. After seeing mythologically large waves known as Mavericks for the first time, he decides he wants to surf them himself. Frosty, his mentor/father figure, reluctantly agrees to train him.
At least, those are the bones of the movie. Woven through all that are Jay’s absent father, his relationship to Frosty, Frosty’s own fear of being a good father to his two children, Jay’s troubled relationship with his mother and his reverse parenting of her, the changes in Jay’s relationship with his best friend and his connection to a girl he’s loved since he was a child. There are also a few deaths, essentially making the movie a Shakespearean tragedy with wetsuits instead of doublets.
Weston plays Jay as someone with the kind of dedication that can only come out of innocence. He’s not perfect Р in fact, that mix nearly makes him a social outcast at times Р but at times he almost glows. He clearly adores Frosty, even idolizes him, but there’s a fragility to the emotion that implies he’s also feeling the loss of his own absent father.
Butler plays Frosty as a man who’s terrified but pretends not to be, and generally reminds the world that he’s capable of being a warm, nuanced actor. He’s also a more talented actor than I had previously given him credit for Р in one key scene, I knew exactly what had happened simply by reading the expression on his face.
Elizabeth Shue also does herself credit as Jay’s mother, who at first seems like the standard useless alcoholic mother. Shue makes it clear, however, that she does have genuine feelings for her son. When she gets past her own weariness to be there for Jay, it’s one of the movie’s more touching moments.
The interplay between the three is the heart of the movie, specifically the connection between Frosty and Jay. Even at the end, when Jay is riding the wave he’s spent the entire movie training for, half the payoff is the pride and fear on Frosty’s face as he’s standing on the shoreline watching the boy who’s essentially his son. Any audience members who have difficulties with their own father might actually want to avoid the movie, since there are certain passages that may break their hearts.
Of course, your heart might get a little broken anyway. There’s nothing sadder than something beautiful that doesn’t last long enough, even if that’s part of what made it so beautiful in the first place.