by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
September 12, 2002
MY BIG FAT BLUE CRUSH
DUMMERSTON, VT. -- How is it possible to fall in love with a movie when the acting is dreadful and the storyline is confused, stale and predictable? I don't know, but it just happened to me.
If the job of popular culture is to present us to ourselves, to wrestle "with whatever the people are wrestling with," as writer David Hinckley said recently in the Daily News, then what is it telling us now, when it's full of dead bodies, explosions, dominant Republican males saving the world by themselves, women with supernatural powers and/or guns, and scary proto-terrorist scenarios.
If you're a woman, pop culture is telling us, the main narrative of your life is finding a great-looking guy. That's been the dominant woman's narrative since, say, forever. It isn't about real life things, like struggling with a career, having adventures, meeting new challenges, or conquering fears. It's about finding a man, although a secondary narrative can be about conquering some terrible addiction - drugs, alcohol, an abusive man. Victimhood is always a good woman's narrative. There's even an entire television channel, Lifetime, devoted to it.
In movies and television shows, which are mostly created by men, women are creatures driven by the romantic and/or nesting imperative. For every "Murphy Brown" or "Crossing Jordan" there are twelve "Everybody Loves Raymonds" or even "The Sopranos." It has always frustrated me, for example, that although the lovely women of "Sex in the City" have successful careers, they focus only on their dating lives.
One of the reasons that Nia Vardalos' "My Big Fat Greek Wedding" is the sleeper hit movie of the year is because it takes that narrative and at least makes it funny. With something like $96 million in box office receipts so far, this independent stand-up-routine-turned-movie about a Greek family has quietly taken America by storm.
The story is as heartwarming as it is funny, too, although the narrative is so conventional that if I say "Cinderella," I don't have to say anything more. The heroine, played by Vardalos, gets up the courage to change her appearance. Going from drab to attractive, she then goes to college, changes her life, and - big surprise - gets a great-looking guy.
But now I've found a movie that takes young women into another realm altogether - the realm of adventure. It's called "Blue Crush," a name meant to evoke the infatuation surfers feel for their sport, and for the danger of the waves they go up against.
"Blue Crush" is the surfer-girls-of-Maui movie made from a magazine story. Directed by John Stockwell, it tells how Anne Marie, a surfer with talent, prepares for the big, all-women's Bonzai Pipeline competition while living with two friends and her younger sister, and struggling to pay the bills by working as a maid in a luxury hotel.
The movie has gotten, shall we say, mixed reviews. One reviewer called it an "estrogen opera." Others said: "By the movie's end, you'll swear you are wet," "Predictable as the tides," and, "On land it starts gasping like a beached grouper."
There are many things wrong with this movie. The main one is that the star, Kate Bosworth, is a true "Barbie" (an epithet in the film) with vacant eyes, badly capped teeth and no expression on her Michelle-Phillips-of-the-Mamas-and-the-Papas-era face. For the movie, she had to learn how to stand up on a surf board, so she's not exactly convincing in the water, either.
And as for the main plot, forget it. Think "Karate Kid" or a hundred other young-person-has-to-struggle-to-win-the-prize movies. You've seen it a thousand times. But how many times have you seen it with a female lead?
The movie has great wave shots, but I love it because the women are doing something besides looking for a man. They are putting themselves in danger every day. ("Take the risk, feel the rush" say the ads) The love interest, a cute, $10 million professional quarterback, is merely a distraction and a sideline.
Despite the warmed-over plot, the confusing and unresolved subplots (the little sister is sneaking out to smoke dope and have sex, the quarterback is leaving town in a few days), the movie takes you on a woman's journey of accomplishment, with strong female support and bonding all the way down the line.
Compare it for a moment with the recent "Hysterical Blindness," the HBO film with Uma Thurman, Juliette Lewis and Gena Rowlands. Here, three of the world's most beautiful women are slumming, playing Jersey women who - another big surprise - are looking for men. After a few disasters (one man dies, another is a bastard), they settle for female companionship and doing their hair until the next round of men comes into their lives.
Real Jersey girls should boycott HBO for putting on something so patronizing. (And if you want real Jersey women kicking butt, read Janet Evanovich's addictive Stephanie Plum books.)
So, mothers and fathers, grab your young daughters and run, don't walk, to see "Blue Crush." In fact, the night I saw it, the theater was filled with young girls. If you can ignore the bad acting and the dreadful plotlines (and explain away the condom scene - the girls are hotel maids, remember), you come away with the feeling that girls can thrive on challenge and danger. For me, that feeling was almost as thrilling as riding the perfect wave down the Bonzai Pipeline.
Joyce Marcel is a free-lance journalist who writes about culture, politics, economics and travel.