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« In Which We Struggle To Get Over This Blue Crush »

We're Losing You


There is a scene early on in Blue Crush when Michelle Rodriguez, who plays Kate Bosworth’s friend and bossy surfing coach, Eden, is shown close up with a piece of food on her face. “You know you’re just as good as her,” she tells Bosworth’s character, Anne Marie, who is gazing enviously across a gas station at a pro surfer filling up two jet skis. Anne Marie, dozy, eyes vacant, is supposedly having a reverie about her future as a pro surfer as another friend, Lena, rattles off names of exotic surfing destinations frequented by pros. It may be Bosworth’s most convincing facial expression in the film. But the moment is ruined because Rodriguez has a Twinkie crumb on her face and nobody on set bothered to fix it.

Break me off a piece of that (wave)Blue Crush is a flimsy story atop big, beautiful waves. It’s filled with moments like this––interpersonal scenes that look as if they were filmed in one or two takes––scenes featuring poor improvisations that remind me of girls laughing extra hard at a private joke for the purpose of excluding others. These scenes are alternated with breathtakingly convincing slo-mo surfing scenes featuring Bosworth's face CG'd onto the body of pro surfer Rochelle Ballard.

As this and the DVD extras would suggest, the director, John Stockwell (whose preceding directing credit is the Kirsten Dunst movie Crazy/Beautiful), only cares about surfing. The extras reveal that much time was spent gathering the footage, and the film should be respected for it—most of it actually took place in the ocean, which means we even get to see Anne Marie and friends try to balance on the same beginner longboard and pretend they’ve been surfing for years.

The script for Blue Crush is based on a 1998 story by Susan Orlean published in Outside Magazine. That story, about the lives of young female surfers in Maui, begins like this: “The Maui surfer girls love each other's hair. It is awesome hair, long and bleached by the sun, and it falls over their shoulders straight, like water, or in squiggles, like seaweed, or in waves.”

This visual, and many more in Orlean's story, are strange and enticing. But this kind of vignette is rare in Blue Crush, which is set on Oahu. It is not so rare in its trailer, where distant events in the movie, some of which didn't make the final cut or were re-shot, are melded into a short, enviable narrative of rebellion and adventure in paradise. We are led to believe that Blue Crush is a flight of fancy framed around a professional competition that will be deferred until the last moment because Bosworth's character needs it to, or rather, because Hollywood needs it to. The film sits in an uncomfortable and often numbing purgatory between real life and fiction. Choosing one would have been fine.

Abandoned by her mother, Anne Marie is on the edge of her teenage years and funds her lifestyle by working as a hotel maid. The lifestyle is no party: she is training for a grueling test on a world stage: the Pipe Masters. Here’s where reality sweeps in. The training amounts to a groundhog day of physical exertion and early nights. Anyone who's done a marathon or other such competition, or knows someone who has, knows that the training is often worthy of gloating.

But there is no joy or pride in Bosworth's approach, and little in the filmmaker’s. In fact, Kate Bosworth is such a reserved actress that we are made to feel her character has no passion for the sport at all. So Anne Marie is mostly mechanical and distant. (Perhaps this is the right characterization for someone used to this kind of grind.) It comes as no surprise that she gingerly, then forcefully, latches on to a pro footballer named Matt, seemingly modeled after Tom Brady, to distract her from the task at hand, which is life-threatening rides inside story-high waves.

Michelle Rodriguez's Eden, on the other hand, has enough energy to carry the movie, if only the football player hadn’t carried off Anne Marie. She delivers lines with an unflappable, unrehearsed gusto, as if she prepared for the role by shadowing the girls in Orlean's story. Then again, she plays similar roles in other films – The Fast and the Furious, Girlfight and Avatar. Rodriguez conducts herself like she walked off the street onto a movie set with a can-do attitude because someone was a man short, then decided to make a career out of it. She is without self-consciousness or affectation, to the point that she risks being continually typecast as herself.

“If you just would’ve committed you could’ve made that wave!” Eden says to Anne Marie and the group after the dramatic first surfing sequence of the film, when Anne Marie tumbles down a wave and is sucked inside it in a fear-induced reenactment of the “near-drowning incident” she keeps having nightmares about. At the beginning of the film, it's suggested that this psychological battle – in the accident, she hit her head on a reef and subsequently shied away from the competitive circuit for a few years – is the only thing standing in Anne Marie's way.

But standing just a foot away from Eden as she laments her lack of progress––the competition is five days away – Anne Marie isn’t listening. She’s under a showerhead, eyes closed, brooding, perhaps dreaming of a way to escape the banality set up just scenes ago: recurring nightmare, early-morning jog, surf, eat, work, surf, eat, repeat. Anne Marie doesn’t possess the same avidity as Eden for "making" the big waves, it seems, but Eden doesn’t have the talent, so she keeps pushing her friend toward the dream.

Meanwhile, we are continually being reminded that Anne Marie is hot. Going up to meet the footballer in his hotel room, she takes the back stairway of the hotel, where a middle-aged man shyly gazes after her as she ascends the stairs in a short skirt. Earlier on, at a party where she goes to retrieve her tween-age sister from certain intoxication, her ex-boyfriend and his best friend, who are local surfers, at different points try to grab her, thrilled that she's actually there, as opposed to home sleeping. She’s given up a hard-partying lifestyle for surfing, and her sister has taken her place. Eventually, Anne Marie lets her be, but she stays awake worrying until little sis comes home.

Soon enough, Anne Marie has traded in makeshift mothering and early nights for Matt’s hotel bed. As their courtship dully progresses, we marvel at how Matt can be so pleasantly dorky as to get away with being manipulative. He puffs up Anne Marie's surfing talent, then completely marginalizes it, paying her and her friends generously for surfing lessons and doing so in advance because “I just don't want to lose you.” Anne Marie bristles a little – “Are you trying to buy me?” – before giving in.

Matt's allure lasts about the length of the film's minute-long hot tub scene, where they consummate their lust after perhaps three days, or 25 minutes of the film. But in that scene, and in the rest of the movie, Matt and everything he does is only intriguing because it’s shiny with wealth: in the case of the hot tub scene, the room’s mood lighting, the bumping bass of the stereo, the steam rising off the water and the lushness surrounding it all conspire to win over Anne Marie. This is not a hot tub on, say, The Real World or Blind Date. So the couple manages to make a hot tub not gross. But they barely manage to make themselves look sexy, let alone interested in each other enough to justify temporarily derailing Anne Marie’s goal.

After a few days of honeymooning, which includes flaking out on Coach Eden (the only person interested in keeping this film on track), getting Matt beaten up by locals, and getting massages, it finally comes to Anne Marie that she’s been leaving her ambition to rot. But the realization barely comes through. She’s crouched in the shallow waters of a hotel's artificial-looking beach, having run away from an elaborate dinner for the football players after their snobby wives insulted her. When Matt asks her what she wants out of the fling––a valid question, considering its brevity – she ponders. Only her head comes above the surface, like a periscope peeking out to see if it's safe to start acting. She rattles off her wishes, and, as if negating the last hour of the film, none of them has to do with him. She sounds lost, but it's not clear why, because there's never been any question that she’ll go through with the competition the next morning. Vaguely, she asks Matt “what to do.” He tells her to “be the girl I met on the beach…the girl who’d never ask a guy what to do.”

Her reaction is one of blankness, followed by a flicker of disgust. The film cuts straight to the competition: a long, dramatic, if predictable final scene than couldn't have come soon enough, but that image of Anne Marie's regretful face remains, seemingly an acknowledgement that she didn’t just ask a guy what to do – she let him ruin an entire film.

Liz Colville is a contributor to This Recording. This is her first appearance in these pages. She is a writer living in Brooklyn. She blogs here and she tumbls here.

"Faculty of Fear" - Lightspeed Champion (mp3)

"There's Nothing Underwater" - Lightspeed Champion (mp3)

"I Don't Want To Wake Up Alone" - Lightspeed Champion (mp3)

Life is Sweet! Nice To Meet You comes out in the U.S. on February 16th.

w/ lauren bacall

References (2)

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  • Response
    Football is truly 1 of the biggest sports in America. It has a big following.
  • Response

Reader Comments (4)

spot on. but i still love this movie.

February 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermathieu

I saw the budget for this movie was $30 million. What'd they spend it on? Teeth whitener?

February 15, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterHugh

this movie is my favorite..its totally Radd nd honestly i iwsh i could jump in tht life nd live like tht..no-matter how hard it could be..its still awsome..this movie is deff inspirational

May 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterFrankie (Francheska)
Yea the movie isnt that great, could be better, but i still love it
May 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterApria

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