A NEW WAVE : BLUE CRUSH
USA 2002 : John Stockwell : 104 mins
As teen movies go, Blue Crush is a distinct cut above average – against all expectations, there’s plenty here to engage, entertain and perhaps even impress audiences far beyond its target demographic of 11-16 year old girls. If, that is, such potential customers can see beyond their own snobbery, and also the film’s unpromising title, trailer and poster: all of which suggest airhead surfer-chick nonsense along the lines of Britney Spears’ instantly forgettable Crossroads. In fact, the tough-talking heroines of Blue Crush would be horrified to see themselves posing so vacantly on the movie’s poster looking like the ‘Baywatch Barbies’ they instinctively despise.
The opening credits provide the first upbeat sign – the screenplay, by director Stockwell and Lizzy Weiss (who also provides the ‘story’), turns out to be based on a 1998 article entitled ‘Surf Girls of Maui‘ by none other than Susan Orlean of Adaptation fame. Though it’s tempting to consider what Adaptation‘s Charlie (and Donald!) Kaufman might have come up with, Weiss and Stockwell do a good, relatively orthodox job, even if they really only take the Orlean article – which concentrates on 16-year-old Theresa McGregor – as a very loose inspiration.
While McGregor lived with her parents, received schooling at home and had already secured enough commercial sponsorship to enable her to surf as much as she wanted, Blue Crush‘s Anne Marie Chadwick (Kate Bosworth) has things rather tougher, at least at the start. Slightly older than McGregor (20?), she inhabits in a rickety beachfront shack with her wayward 14-year-old sister Penny (Mika Boorem) – in a minor variation on the similarly Hawaiian-set and surfing-themed Lilo and Stitch, Anne Marie was forced to take over parental duties when her mother ran off to ‘the mainland’ with a new man. While dreaming of turning pro, Anne Marie makes ends meet by working as a maid – along with her surfing pals Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake) – in a huge five-star hotel full of mostly boorishly messy but extremely rich mainlanders. One of the less inconsiderate guests is nice-guy NFL star Matt (Matthew Davis), with whom Anne Marie soon strikes up a romance – much to the chagrin of her trainer Eden, who points out that, with a major tournament only days away, Anne Marie must resist all distractions.
Though its structure follows the perfunctory format of Hollywood sports pictures – the impending tournament, the nagging trainer, the romantic diversion, obstacles inspirationally overcome – Blue Crush transcends the usual limitations by paying unexpectedly close attention to reality. “You guys get out here, I’ll go find some parking,” says Eden, driving Anne Marie and Lena to the big tournament – although apparently a throwaway line, it’s typical of Weiss and Stockwell’s determination to avoid the easy route. Unlike in the fantasy world of Jennifer Lopez’s recent Maid in Manhattan, the Blue Crush girls really do get their hands quite disgustingly dirty at work – they’re graphically shown dealing with excrement, vomit and carelessly-discarded condoms.
The ‘mainlanders’ – Matt’s fellow footballers are a pair of colossal African-Americans – are initially a source of mild comic relief, but these easy laughs are abruptly converted to more serious aims when the pair get up on stage to cavort around during a themed ‘Hawaiian’ party night at the hotel. The crassness of the event appals Anne Marie, who makes a hasty exit and jumps into the nearest pool, as if soiled by her proximity to such a grotesque distortion of her island’s culture.
Not that Anne Marie is exactly the most typically ‘Hawaiian’ person herself – it’s slightly disconcerting that once again in a Hollywood movie the ‘least ethnic’ person on view is the one audiences are invited to identify and sympathise with. Anne Marie’s relationship with the feisty Hispanic Eden directly parallels that between Paul Walker and Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious (which also featured Rodriguez), and between Eminem and Mekhi Phifer in 8 Mile – for reasons of demographic appeal, in each case the non-white ‘trainer’ elects to take a back seat and allow their more-gifted ‘protg’ to take the limelight.
But while 8 Mile (also produced by Brian Grazer) presented a cartoon vision of Detroit poverty and racism, Blue Crush feels much more convincing in every respect all the way up to a climax that doesn’t quite conform to our expectations. Unlike 8 Mile‘s woeful scriptwriter Scott Silver, Weiss and Stockwell remember the vital lesson that Rocky actually lost at the end of the first movie. Anne Marie doesn’t even get through to the final of her tournament, but does enough to secure her goals of sponsorship deals and a front-page picture on the cover of Surfing magazine. There’s clearly some kind of ‘Kournikova syndrome’ going on here – it’s clear that the stunning Anne Maries of this world don’t actually have to be dominant champions. Blue Crush features no less than five real-life leading female surfers as themselves (Anne Marie’s final ride is against Kate Skarratt), and none of them are exactly conventional pin-up material.
The presence of Skarratt and company is another encouraging sign that the film-makers have, for once, bothered to get things right. The surfing footage is suitably spectacular, but within the realms of plausibility – and many of the rides are clearly being performed by the actors themselves. David Hennings’ limpid cinematography, while featuring several “how the f**k did they get that shot” moments, takes a slightly rough-edged, Dogtown-ish approach to the ‘endless summer’ world of Hawaii, while editor Emma E Hickox manages to stay just the right side of hyperkinetic MTV excess – and leaves in one very neat sight gag, when a surfing dog rides his luck before being rather rudely ejected into the waves.
Though surprisingly serious about its subject, Blue Crush is never po-faced. Apart from the very opening shot (a dream sequence in which the surf is seen in distorted LSD-style colours) we’re mercifully free of the ‘trippy’ 1970s visuals of pictures like Crystal Voyager. Weiss and Stockwell also nimbly avoid an even more perilous danger – their jargon-light dialogue features none of the zen-surf bombast that the surf genre, whether literary ( Kem Nunn’s The Dogs of Winter) or cinematic (Point Break and Big Wednesday) or can be prone to. ‘Little Tuesday’ this emphatically isn’t. In fact, by the end you may be so won over that a sequel isn’t an unappealing prospect. Blue Crush 2 – now there’s a challenge for the Kaufman brothers.
1st April, 2003
(seen UCI MetroCentre, Gateshead, 30th March)
click here for a short review of Blue Crush
by Neil Young