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Blue Crush

Director: John Stockwell
Cast: Kate Bosworth, Michelle Rodriguez, Matthew Davis, Sanoe Lake, Mika Boorem, Faizon Love, Chris Taloa

(Universal Pictures; US theatrical: 16 Aug 2002; 2002)

Girls lay pipe

Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth) is a surfer girl. Apparently, she’s an extremely gifted surfer girl, though this is not so much on display in Blue Crush as her taut surfer girl figure and sun-bleached blond hair. From film’s start, you see there’s a reason for this lack: it’s about Anne Marie’s efforts to “come back” after her mother’s abandonment and a “near-drowning incident” (this phrase repeated several times, by insensitive observers) that happened some three years before.


And surely, you want her to come back. By all initial appearances, Anne Marie is dedicated to her craft—the film’s first images show her waking from a nightmare (hitting her head on an underwater reef, nearly drowning), running along the water outside her Oahu home, completing her sit-ups and pull-ups, then checking the surf-watch hotline. Double overhead: time to beeline for the water. Once there, she and her girls, Eden (Michelle Rodriguez) and Lena (Sanoe Lake, a real surfer girl in her first film performance), as well as her little sister Penny (Mika Boorem), have to contend with a crew of guy surfers who like to posture and insinuate the girls are, you know, inferior.


This being a movie about surfer girls, the boys—including Anne Marie’s ex, Drew (Chris Taloa), Kala (Kala Alexander), and JJ (Ruben Ejada)—are sometimes piggish, sometimes fuzzily supportive, always fiercely protective of their surfing subculture. The girls serve other roles: Eden pushes Anne Marie to compete and Lena encourages her to flirt with boys, like opposite angels on her shoulders, and not a little tired as “supporting character” types. The most refreshing aspect of this surfing scene (really, all of them), is that it is not set to ‘70s guitar rock. Rather, the scenes use hiphop or something related, keeping up with what the kids on screen might actually listen to, not some nostalgia filmmakers’ trip. This first, set-you-up surfing scene takes place under Blestenation’s “Cruel Summer,” a mix of beats and a pop hook that speaks directly to Anne Marie’s lingering confusion. When she fails to take a wave, Eden gripes, “What the hell is she afraid of?”


Okay, got that: she’s nervous about failing, even dying (surfing can be dangerous). Following their morning excursion, the girls drop 14-year-old Penny at school. The shirt-sleeved principal comes out to the parking lot to fill in more “character background,” chastising Anne Marie for not fulfilling her own promise as a student. Though Anne Marie mouths off to Geeky Adult, she clearly feels guilt. That night, she chases down Penny, who’s gone out partying, that is, drinking beer and imbibing who knows what else with Anne Marie’s increasingly skuzzy-looking ex (this “scary” party scene, Anne Marie rushing through the crowd as handheld POV camera, is accompanied by a speedy and appropriately disorienting remix of N.E.R.D.‘s “Rock Star”). Though Eden and Lena remind Anne Marie that they also used to party hard when they were younger, and gee, they “turned out all right,” big sister is only partly convinced.


She has dreams: Penny will go to college and she will go around the world. Anne Marie wants to live up to her early promise as a great surfer, be sponsored by Billabong, appear on the cover of Surfing magazine, and earn her living as a respected athlete seeking fabulous waves. For the moment, though, she’s treading water. Anne Marie’s days—aside fro the early morning boarding—are routine: she and the girls wolf down Twinkies for breakfast, then head to work, late. They’re maids at a fancy hotel on the “other” side of the island from where they live live. At the hotel, they see how wealthy folks live, trying on expensive clothes and surfing the net on elegant laptops. (Eden uses the laptop: the film uses this opportunity to “explain” Anne Marie’s upcoming participation in the Pipe Masters competition, where her surfing career will be made or broken in a single afternoon.)


The other room they’re cleaning belongs to a professional football player (the whole team’s in Hawaii on vacation), which is horrendously rank, littered with food, booze, vomit, and used condoms. A girl can only take so much. Anne Marie marches out to the beach, where she finds the occupant, Leslie (Faizon Love, whose primary function in the film appears to be jiggling, like he’s in a Bubba Sparxx video), and schools him on how to clean up after himself. This display of spunk impresses Leslie’s pretty-boy quarterback, Matt (Matthew Davis, the Ken Doll-looking bad boyfriend in Legally Blonde). He approaches her for surfing lessons. Can true love be far behind?


As it turns out, the romance is more complicated than it first appears. It’s definitely a jaw-dropping moment when, after a day of lessons (“Are you psyched?” she gushes), he hands her $1000 in cash just as they begin to kiss. No slouch, Anne Marie gasps, “Are you trying to buy me?” Actually, he is, but this being a PG-13 surfer girls movie, he says no, she pretends to believe him, and they proceed with the clinch. It may be that Anne Marie actually trusts that Matt will make her Mrs. Football Star, but given all the yapping about her dreams and hard work and dedication before this moment, it’s hard to accept her instant rollover-and-lie-down maneuver.


Then again, given the much-publicized conflicts between director John Stockwell and Disney when he was trying to make crazy/beautiful a serious movie about a girl (played by Kirsten Dunst) with serious substance abuse problems (references to drugs and scenes of drinking were excised), the fact that Blue Crush makes even a vague allusion to something resembling prostitution, however “innocuous” or “ironic,” establishes Anne Marie’s basic dilemma: money. It may be dressed up like romance versus independence, but that’s what it is. Should she aspire to be wifey (or, as Eden puts it, “Pro Ho”) or should she pursue her own career and let QB-boy head on home? When Anne Marie wakes post-sex, he’s gone to practice, leaving a note that instructs her to live it up. She orders blueberry pancakes from room service and swims in the private pool, takes a shower and wears the fluffy white terry robe.


Most obviously, this scene reemphasizes rich boyfriend’s lure, such as it is. Matt is the blandest potential Prince Charming to appear in a girl’s fantasy since, oh, Charlie’s Angels, or maybe Legally Blonde. The decision is taken out of her hands when she later overhears the other football players’ well-manicured girlfriends gossiping about her. Poor naïve Anne Marie is horrified to realize they don’t consider her an equal. Poor you recognize this as a standard movie ploy, wherein studio types assume viewers prefer to identify with “workers” who are destined for better things, even if said viewers are not maids or valets themselves. Anne Marie wades into a nearby body of water, he follows, and here they have their showdown, in her supposed “element.”


As corny and overwrought as this romance gets—and it gets even worse—the truth is, the film, which is based on Susan Orlean’s magazine story, “Surf Girls of Maui,” doesn’t need it. Big fat super-popular boy power movies don’t rely on plot, so it probably makes sense that this pulse-pounding girl power movie doesn’t either (and like most boy movies, this one is about a stunningly beautiful white protagonist surrounded by a multi-culti crew). Blue Crush is righteously in love with its surfing scenes, comprised of incredible long shots of little specks-of-humans on giant blue waves, underwater shots, and spectacular POV-on-body-board shots through the wave curls, that is, the “washing machine experience.”


The final competition is particularly wild with a bumping dance track and thrilling camerawork that conveys the rush and risk for the girls (including pro surfers Rochelle Ballard, Megan Abubo, who double for Bosworth and Rodriguez, as well as Keala Kennelly, Kayne Beachley, and Kate Skarratt). The final credits sequence is most informative, however, showing pros and Hawaiian locals, kids and older folks, all surfing. And now, in case you forgot, Blue Crush‘s final moments remind you. This is a longstanding culture, not just a cool new extreme sports event to be rendered in video games, the latest “fad” to be consumed by the mainlanders.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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