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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Chasing Mavericks is based on the true story of how 16-year-old Jay Moriarty became a surfing legend by training to ride the massive Mavericks waves. There are a few brief scenes of violence -- mostly pushing, shoving, and huge waves battering a few surfers who aren't up to the task -- as well as a couple of disturbing moments: A young wife/mother suffers a stroke and dies, and a young man is shown moments before his death by drowning. This is an inspiring tale of perseverance and discipline, but (spoiler alert!) it ends in the sadness that Moriarty died at age 22 while doing what he loved: taking risks with the sea.
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What's the story?
When he was just 8 years old, Jay Moriarty was saved from drowning in perilous Santa Cruz, Calif., waves by his neighbor, local surfer Frosty Hesson (Gerard Butler). Seven years later, Moriarty (Jonny Weston) has emerged as a teen longboard phenom who still idolizes Frosty. One early morning, Moriarty follows him to a secret surfing destination where Hesson and three other older surfers ride huge, 20-foot-plus waves called "Mavericks" that were thought to be a myth. Moriarty begs Hesson to prepare him to ride the remarkably high (and dangerous) waves. Encouraged by his wife (Abigail Spencer) to be fatherly toward Jay, Frosty agrees and enacts a strict physical and character-building training regimen to get Jay ready to survive the massive waves.
Is it any good?
A typical, inspiring coming-of-age story about an athlete willing to do what's necessary to accomplish his goals, it's a bit too treacly (and the obstacles too contrived) to be a remarkable film. It's visually gorgeous -- particularly the climactic surfing sequences when the water and the riders become one. But the story feels flat, and a few of the domestic dramas seem inauthentic (like the fact that Jay keeps an unopened letter from his father who abandoned him and his mother, or that his mother -- played by Elisabeth Shue -- is troubled and either an alcoholic or just overworked).
What's worse is that the movie's antagonist (a slightly older bully who really has no reason to bother with Jay), does nothing to drive the movie forward -- unlike, say, iconic bully Johnny in The Karate Kid. The only real obstacle to Jay accomplishing his dream is the untamable power of the waves themselves. Because of that, the best scenes, naturally, are of Weston and Butler paddling and talking reverently about what it takes to be a true surfer who respects the waves. Ultimately, Jay conquers the Mavericks -- as if there was really any doubt. If there's an overarching lesson in the film, it's that anything worth doing takes hard work, preparation, and humility.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the discipline and drive that Jay calls on to commit to riding the big waves. How is he different from the other teenagers in the movie? Is he relatable?
Jay, while certainly inspirational, eventually meets a heartbreaking fate. Is it really good advice to "Live Like Jay"?
The movie is based on a true story; do you think filmmakers changed any details? Why might they do that? How could you find out what was fact and what was fiction?
- In theaters: October 26, 2012
- On DVD or streaming: February 26, 2013
- Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Gerard Butler, Jonny Weston
- Directors: Curtis Hanson, Michael Apted
- Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
- Genre: Drama
- Topics: Sports and Martial Arts, Great Boy Role Models
- Run time: 105 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: thematic elements and some perilous action
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.