DVD Release Date: February 26, 2013
Theatrical Release Date: October 26, 2012
Rating: PG (for thematic elements and some perilous action)
Genre: Drama/Sports
Run Time: 120 min.
Directors: Michael Apted, Curtis Hanson
Cast: Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston, Elisabeth Shue, Abigail Spencer, Leven Rambin, Taylor Handley

Whether it was the complicated dynamic between two very different sisters in 2005’s In Her Shoes, or the gritty journey of a factory worker moonlighting as an up-and-coming rapper in 8 Mile two years earlier, director Curtis Hanson has a knack for capturing fractured families in all their unpredictable, heartbreaking glory.

Chasing Mavericks, the true story of surfing phenom Jay Moriarity, is no exception as imperfect families also play a starring role here. Like many kids, Jay (newcomer Jonny Weston) grew up without a father, a fact his troubled mama, Kristy (Elisabeth Shue, Gracie), hasn’t quite recovered from. If anything, it’s Jay who’s taken on the parental responsibilities. Not only serving as his mom’s human alarm clock to ensure she makes it to work on time, Jay also lends her the money he makes at the local pizza joint for whatever she needs since she’s not exactly conscientious with her own paycheck.

Given how tense things tend to be at home, it’s really no surprise that Jay is looking for an outlet, which is precisely what surfing is for him. After nearly drowning as a kid and being rescued by Frosty, a construction worker who turns out to be Jay's neighbor and who has a passion for riding waves, Jay is intrigued by the sense of adventure surfing offers.

Jay turns out to be a particularly quick study, a natural, and even Frosty, whose name often reflects his personality, is impressed by the way he surfs. It doesn’t take long for Jay to long for a new challenge after mastering the local Santa Cruz waves, so when he overhears Frosty (Gerard Butler, Machine Gun Preacher) talking to friends about surfing "mavericks," the really big waves only known to select members of the surfing community, he knows he has to get in on the action.

Trouble is, he’s not sure Frosty would let him tag along, so instead of simply asking, he hops on top of Frosty’s truck and rides the Pacific Coast Highway from Santa Cruz to Monterey. After getting over the initial shock that Jay is privy to the details of this surfing legend, Frosty agrees (after many, many reservations) to help Jay train to surf these mavericks himself.

Naturally, the challenge isn’t an easy one, and Frosty isn’t sure if Jay can do it. In fact, he’s not even sure if he’s up to the task of training him. But when Frosty’s sweet wife (Abigail Spencer, This Means War) reminds her curmudgeonly husband that people come into our lives for a reason, he’s determined to be the mentor that young Jay needs so desperately.

While the story trajectory itself won’t be much of a surprise for anyone who’s ever seen a sports movie, Chasing Mavericks still manages to rise above the clichés. Strong, nuanced performances from the leads, especially Butler, certainly help the cause, but it’s how the screenwriters handle teen angst, impossible dreams and family squabbles that really shines. By allowing the audience to see several sides of every character, the good, the bad and the in-between, it’s easier to identify with—and cheer for—the protagonists as the movie builds to the grand finale.

Unlike many films of this ilk, we get a real sense, rather than a quick 10-minute recap, of the inevitable ups and downs of the training process. Jay was a pretty good surfer to begin with, but to attempt such a momentous feat there was a lot of work to be done. We get a sure sense of that as Frosty makes certain Jay is equipped not only physically, but emotionally, spiritually and intellectually, too. Truth be told, it's this teacher/student relationship (which ends up being more like father/son by film’s end) that helps elevate the film above standard fare. With a breathtakingly beautiful backdrop of the mighty Pacific, Chasing Mavericks hangs ten with style and substance. Even if you aren’t interested in surfing, you won’t mind spending two hours in the company of these people because they feel so true to life.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Jay is shown caring for his mom when she drinks too much. Some social drinking depicted. It’s also implied that Jay’s friends are mixed up in dealing drugs.
  • Language/Profanity: A couple of exclamations of God’s name, but no profanity.
  • Sex/Nudity: None. Just some kissing and a scene where Kim is shown in her bikini.
  • Violence/Thematic Material: A boy is saved from drowning in one scene. Some intense surfing scenes where the waves are very, very high and people’s lives hang in the balance. Jay is also forced to “be the parent” since his Mom is clearly struggling after Jay’s dad leaves. Jay also struggles with his dad’s early departure and refuses to open the letter he left for him. Death figures prominently into the storyline.
  • Religion/Worldview: Frosty says that spirituality is one of the essential pillars for a strong surfer but claims he struggles with getting that one right sometimes. Some talk of what happens to be people after they die, something that Frosty struggles with in his moments of grieving. There’s are also strong themes of family and the importance of mentors.

Publication date: October 26, 2012