I never wanted to surf. Not once, when my husband or step-children would pick up boards and wetsuits and head for the beach, was I inspired to say “let me give it a try”, not even when friends would visit from Europe and would ask for recommendations on the best surfing beaches or where to take lessons: all that information at my fingertips (because, when you live here long enough, it becomes part of your compass) and never once did I act on it. As athletic as I am, surfing seems really hard. And it requires suffering from bad hair days too often.
Not even watching Helen Hunt’s movie “Ride” was I moved to give it a try. Mainly, because she makes surfing look really difficult (it is) but also because the movie, an ode, amongst other things, to Los Angeles beach living from someone who knows a thing or two about both living here and surfing, grabbed me for many other reasons. Like a good read, a good movie often reflects back parts of us we don’t care to look at or that we recognize as way too familiar.
Inspiration and motivation, these days, come to me from women, let’s say, of a certain age who, successfully or not, work on their own terms on projects they deeply care about. We come across them more often than we might notice and, on those mornings when I wake up feeling like I am wasting space or that my best days might have taken roots in the distant past, I think of the women who have crossed my path, even tangentially, and dared to do what they really wanted to do.
Helen Hunt is 51 years old. I know nothing about her other than her accomplished work on screen and on stage, where I saw her in an excellent production of Thornton Wilder’s “Our Town”. I always found her relatable, and never more so than at the screening of her new movie “Ride”, a few nights ago in Santa Monica. During a post movie Q&A, she came across as smart, dedicated and humble, as well as multi-talented. Ms. Hunt wrote, directed and starred in this indie movie, one of those little gems you want your friends to see.
“Ride” is the story of a NY workaholic literary editor, a single mother whose son (Brenton Thwaites), an aspiring writer, is about to start his first semester at Columbia. Their relationship is dysfunctional in the way many married couples’ relationships are even if, at face value, it seems to work for both. Until Angelo, the son, spends the Summer in Los Angeles at his father’s, surfing his days away and deciding to drop out of college.
Jackie, Ms. Hunt’s character, follows him in that state of panic and efficiency that, in her mind, will solve all. A hidden family tragedy comes late to the plot, which also encompasses hopeless surfing lessons with always charming Luke Wilson, self-discovery, self-deprecation and, eventually, transformation, all with nary a hint of sop but plenty of comedy. And, not once, contrived dialogue (even if, at times, it’s so spitfire it can be to keep up).
While I chose not to have children of my own, I have been a step-mother for the better part of the last 15 years, each and one of them fraught by doubts and the recognition of many missteps, always mystified by the tight leash (or chokehold) American mothers place on their progeny. Even if sometimes it felt like I was toiling at the periphery of what motherhood is supposed to be, I am familiar with the need to let go, to rethink one’s motives and to show up as best we can. That is where this little movie grabbed me and reminded me that, no matter what are demons are, there is no way around them but to work them out for ourselves, through surfing or whatever else helps you to let go and embrace your life. (And yes, if you live in LA, especially on the Westside, it’s fun to recognize all the beaches and the local hangouts – without having to get your hair wet.)
Women in Hollywood lament the dearth of good parts for anyone past the age of 50 and many of them have resorted to writing themselves: and who best could understand, make the characters recognizable and avoid the cringe-inducing clichés?
At the end of the evening, Ms. Hunt asked nicely and humbly to spread the word about her movie, as word of mouth is vital for small independent films that can be a tough sell in a block-buster centric market. I am very happy to oblige.
Ride opens in the U.S. on May 1 (but also available on iTunes)
All images from the movie