Dead in the Water
It’s gotta be a good thing, right? A movie about girls who are emotionally and physically strong, girls who are chasing their dreams even when they seem beyond reach? A movie about girls, period, as people with ambitions beyond dating the star quarterback?
It should be a good thing, and Blue Crush teases the hopeful girl critic for a while, misleading her into thinking it has something of substance to offer, like Girlfight, only about surfing instead of boxing, an opportunity for girls to prove their mettle. There’s a lot gung-ho go-girl nerve for a good half an hour as three or four very cute but definitely unBarbie young women follow their bliss — serious, terrifyingly athletic surfing, and lots of it — while slaving away at crappy money jobs. Any girl trying to follow her bliss can identify, and this is how Crush draws in unsuspecting gals hoping for a genuine tale of some of our sisters.
But like the cute, charming guy you met in the supermarket who turned out to be such a common snore on your first (and only) date, Blue Crush ends up disappointing — all that potential squandered! It doesn’t take long for the story of smart and tough women to devolve into a slick, simplistic washout, all beautiful cinematography and standard sports platitudes. “When you fall off a wave, you gotta get right back on it again,” or something.
Blue Crush catches a wave at first, with 20ish Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth: The Horse Whisperer), who lives near an Oahu beach with Eden (not so ironically, I suspect, Girlfight‘s Michelle Rodriguez: Resident Evil) and Lena (Sanoe Lake) and who is guardian to her 14-year-old sister, Penny (Mika Boorem: Hearts in Atlantis). They all live for surfing, which naturally involves much running on gorgeous Hawaiian beaches in little halter-topped bathing suits, and yet the film never feels like a TNN special on the making of a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue. This is partly down to director John Stockwell (Crazy/Beautiful), who clearly has respect for the characters beyond their obvious physical loveliness, but is mostly down to the actors themselves, who are so matter-of-fact and so uninterested in posing for us that cheesecake never becomes an issue. They enjoy their own bodies for their athletic prowess and couldn’t care less whether we’re enjoying them or not. It helped, too, that Stockwell and his fellow screenwriter, Lizzy Weiss, did not adopt the title of the Outside Magazine article on which the film is based: “Surf Girls of Maui” sounds like a Playboy feature.
If “Blue Crush” sounds like a soft drink, though, you don’t really realize this until the film begins its descent into TV commercialness and its artificiality and shallowness become readily apparent. A new dreamboat of a boyfriend (Matthew Davis: Legally Blonde) — who is, natch, a football player — distracts Anne Marie from her training for a major surfing competition, just a week away… but not before she takes him to a remote surf spot, an expedition that looks startlingly like an SUV ad. Her distraction at his luxury hotel could have been sponsored by the Hawaii Tourism Board, fake and fluffed up as it is. Sure, we’re supposed to realize that Anne Marie needs to get back to her “real” world, but then how to explain that the surf sequences later in the movie — especially those at the competition — feel phony, too? They look like 30-second spots for a sports drink that invites you, perhaps, to “catch the wave,” camera riding the crest to capture that refreshing feeling caffeine-free Blue Crush provides. Any spontaneity and unpredicatableness that Stockwell captures early in the film is suddenly transformed into something safe and predicable, as if he embarked upon the idea of a women’s sports movie with gusto and then pulled back, afraid of what he’d gotten himself into, and retreated into boring safety.
Perhaps the most distressing of all, however, is the happy depiction of the Anna Kournikova-ization of women’s sports. “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game” takes on a crass new meaning when you only have to play the game well enough to snag lucrative endorsement contracts. It seems a betrayal of Anne Marie’s aspirations if the only value that can be placed on it resides with sporting goods manufacturers.