Blue Crush

Starring:
  • Not Kirsten Dunst
  • Michelle Rodriguez' Glare
  • Offensive Offensive Lineman

 

 
Directed by The Man Who Fought Disney for Kirsten Dunst's Nude and Drug Scenes

"Yeah, I saw what's underneath Vin Diesel's hood. Let's just sat that XXX is the only "XXX" work he's going to be getting."

John Stockwell's Quest for the Perfect Wave

One of Gene Siskel's favorite movies was Saturday Night Fever, which he said approximated the feel of working class kids with extraordinary gifts, cursed because their gifts aren't immediately lucractive. The audience could certainly feel Tony Manero's rebellion against his family because most of us have felt the pressure of facing a bottomless future of jobs with no escape. The pressure squeezes the talented the hardest; those who dominate the local scenes are always haunted by the notion that they are just that and nothing more. When Tony Manero hit the dance floor, all of that anger poured into his disco, the commingling of talent and desire exploding into a dizzying disco ball illuminated by neon fantasy and fueled by the pulsing rythms of the Bee Gees. We see his intensity feed his genius and his trapped adolescence, the shallow musical orgasm of disco the perfect chorus for his reckless sexual escapades, the audience yearning for Tony to finally channel his sexual energy and youthful confusion into something artistic enough for him to escape the working class drone most of us face everyday. Like Jude Law says in Road to Perdition, "Isn't that the dream? To do what we love?"

Roger Ebert talks about Saturday Night Fever in his three-star review of Blue Crush, probably in his continuing homage to Siskel, whom he cites in nearly one of every four reviews. I think I understand Siskel's devotion to Saturday Night Fever now more than ever. Nothing squeezes the soul quite like the pressure of your friends, family, and colleagues telling you daily that you're "going to be famous" and "are the absolute best" when you're a bottom feeder in a vocation with limited jobs to be handed out. One becomes addicted to the high of dominating the local disco, coming down is the dark fear that when the rush is over, you'll have to return to that which the high was an escape—the most apparent options learning to deal with mediocrity or drinking yourself through to old age. That's why I love these little sub-genre, coming-of-age films—most of them are mediocre, but I sense they're made by directors who realized the dream of doing what they love, a short time ago facing the same fear their lead characters do. Filmmaking subsititues for Tony Manero's Saturday Night Fever, Arthur Agee and William Gates' Hoop Dreams, Lane Frost's Eight Seconds on a bucking bronc, or John Milius's Big Wednesday quest for the perfect wave. Even if the film is average, the spirit is real, and I respect that.

It's this spirit that probably prompted Ebert to grant Blue Crush three stars, though the movie itself doesn't deserve them. But I'm compelled to like this movie, which is buoyed by the spirit of a filmmaker, John Stockwell, who only last year nearly submarined his own career by fighting the mighty Disney for his own vision of crazy/beautfiul, a movie in which Kirsten Dunst gives a very brave performance as a drugged-up congressman's daughter in love with an upstanding Hispanic classmate. The released version is pretty average, hurt by some gaping holes in the narrative wrought by executives at Disney who apparently thought it best not to show Kirsten Dunst doing drugs and having loose sex. There's a lot of good stuff in the film (Bruce Davison, a Democratic congressman from California, whose office is adorned only by pictures of him with famous minorities; Kirsten Dunst marching around her glass house, desperate for someone to notice that she's having sex with an Hispanic, even though he's a Good Boy.), and I'll bet that it wouldn't have been so widely dismissed had Stockwell's version was allowed to stand.

Here with Blue Crush, Stockwell makes an average movie that, at least, shows a lot of potential for him as filmmaker. He's very interested in the logistical problems of love across class lines and how racism in youth is both exacerbated and dissolved by class distinctions, ideas he associates with structures of glass and good girls gone wrong at high school parties. This movie is inspired by Susan Orleans' article in Outdoor Magazine "Surf Girls of Maui," the sort of investigative journalism that punctures movie fantasies by showing us the grit and near-poverty of aspiring professional surfers, deflating the beach blanket bingo idea of "Baywatch" bodies. In Stockwell's fictitious account, he shows us a trio of girls as hotel maids, stepping in the puke of a raucous Pro Bowl party thrown by offensive linemen, eating left-overs off room service trays, and disposing of used condoms. He also catches the angry rebukes of those with no reason to have pride in their jobs:  The girls gleefully try on the swimsuits of priveleged women.

The most talented surfer of the trio, Anne-Marie (Kate Bosworth), after catching a few morning waves, rushes across town to take her sister to school and at night, like in crazy/beautiful, rescues the reckless from teenage parties. The crush of the wage-slave life is nearly unbearable, making Anne-Marie vulnerable to a Prince Charming under center, Pro Bowl quarterback Matt, who may or may not possess her glass slipper. Stockwell enjoys inverting cliched movie characters, but as good as some of this is, Stockwell's major folly as a filmmaker is that he can't resist cliches in romantic arcs (Matt's offer of money to buy Anne-Marie's surfing lessons feels too much like Pretty Woman for my taste).   His ideas on class seem more like side plots than essential to the characters' relationships.

Still, in both his movies Stockwell is on to something about the good, somewhat old-fashioned, affection for young people who fall in inexplicable love. Cynical moviegoers may regard the love interests of Tony Manero, Lane Frost, and Anne-Marie as necessary Hollywood convention, but for those threatened by poverty, companionship can be a desperate need. If there's a more fearsome threat than poverity, it's loneliness—as Barbara Ehrenheich explains in Nickle and Dimed, many of her wage-slave coworkers readily enter into relationships for little more than sex and rent, the lightened burden of bills mistaken for love. In short: At the bottom, sometimes you need love, in the least, just to get by. And for the priveleged-yet-sensitive, there's a savior-complex in the guilt of having it so easy and watching someone you admire waste away. Sometimes these desperate contracts are negotiated well by the movies, but in Blue Crush, the script and characters are far too thin. Anne-Marie's vacation romance conflict is too patly resolved: Matt recieves a phone call that sounds made by a wife or girlfriend, but the sideplot is dropped without resolution other than the goo-goo eyes made while date-surfing. With this plot point dropped, the connection between Anne-Marie's conflict of fling/relationship and wannabe/professional surfer isn't developed, and the whole metaphor more or less drowns. Stockwell gives the scenes of Matt and Anne-Marie an awkward, yet true, immediacy by filmming them on hand-held, but what they say resembles the philosophy of Freddie Prinze ("If you want to feel the rush, you have to take the risk.") He has the tools as a director, and if he can develop his authorial instincts, I'm convinced that John Stockwell will make a great movie about self-loathing youth.

That said, Stockwell so impressively films the Hawaiian Pipeline that Anne-Marie's plight still registers artistically. The opening surfing montage is so close to sunrise we can barely make out the bikinis, but the afternoon waves are so crowded it resembles a singles bar on surf. Stockwell's ocean is so clear that there must be some sort of truth lurking out there. He films the Pacific waves as if checking off a list of prepositions: above, behind, in front of, inside, underneath...my favorite angle is from just behind the curl of the wave, looking at the surfer as if through a waterfall. Blue Crush is a beautiful movie, and for those moved more by visuals than words (like Roger Ebert), it's effect may be more than what the script deserves—we certainly don't wish for Anne-Marie's to be soul-crushed by a bleak future, so it's difficult not to empathesize with her when the camera gives us a surfboard's view of a twenty-foot wave.

Unfortunately, to make a great surfing movie, the waves need to mean a little bit more. Blue Crush reminds me of Big Wednseday, written and directed by John Milius, most know for penning Apocalypse Now!. His surfing movie is about the impending title wave of Vietnam, their quest for great waves interrupted by draft notices. Milius has an almost poetic obsession with the ocean and Vietnam, one suspects that Big Wednesday might be a spin-off from Kilgore's expedition in the gulf—it's an average film bolstered by the punctuating image of three friends at the end of adolescence and Vietnam, choosing to ride the inenvitable wave and put it all behind them. The king of surfing movies is Bob Brown's The Endless Summer, in which two friends chase summer around the globe as if they're reaching for heaven, searching for the nirvana of the perfect wave. Their journey is spiritual: Mike and Robert ride a forever curling wave in Cape St. Francis, South Africa, later tackling the twenty foot waves of the Hawaiin pipeline, we feel the dual nature of a peaceful and wrathful God. Stockwell's film is as awkward as Big Wednesday, but not as ambitious, and it certainly doesn't approach The Endless Summer's perfection, but I'm still convinced he'll catch a better wave and make a great movie.

The Pitch:
 
1 Saturday Night Fever
Plus
 
1 Big Wednesday
Plus
 
crazy/beautfiul
Equals
bluecrushthumb.jpg (4444 bytes) bluecrushthumb.jpg (4444 bytes) bluecrushthumb.jpg (4444 bytes)  
2 Blue Crush
See It For:
The girls spot David Hasselhoff giving CPR to an overdosed Yasmine Bleeth.