Distributed by Divine Inspiration
Opening Theatrical Release Date: July 11th 2014
DVD Release Date: September 16th 2014
Reviewed by Joshua Andre
The Perfect Wave– Starring Scott Eastwood, Cheryl Ladd, Rachel Hendrix, Patrick Lyster, Nikolai Mynhardt, Scott Mortensen, Jack Halloran, Diana Vickers, Rosy Hodge, Matt Bromley
It’s been a while since I have seen a movie that has impacted me the way the faith based The Perfect Wave has. A film predominately about surfing, that also asks probing questions of the meaning of our lives; the film that was shot on various locations such as New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Sri Lanka, Mauritius and Bali, is director Bruce MacDonald’s feature length debut. As a debut feature, it’s a pretty solid effort; and with Scott Eastwood, son of respected actor and director Clint, Rachel Hendrix (October Baby), Cheryl Ladd (Charlie’s Angels TV series) and surfer Jack Halloran all headlining the 94 minute true story; I believe that there is something everyone can gain from this film, regardless of their beliefs and values.
Now for those of you are wondering whether The Perfect Wave is similar to Switchfoot’s surfing documentary Fading West, in that they both were shot on various locations, as well as both films containing shots of people surfing; let me say that apart from a few camera and location similarities, that both films are quite different. Both films feature surfing as a backdrop, yet while Fading West gives us insight into Switchfoot as a band and why they write the songs they do, this film speaks about a clear issue of direction and purpose in life that I am hopeful people will understand and grapple with when they watch the film. Yep, a fan of Switchfoot’s latest documentary DVD would appreciate the shots, camera work and locations shown in this film, yet I believe it is totally fine and ok for haters of Switchfoot, or at least those who didn’t resonate with Fading West the documentary, to love The Perfect Wave.
Inspired by the true story of Ian McCormack, the story is set in 1980, and follows a disillusioned 20 something year old young man, who grew up in the Christian faith but doesn’t believe anymore, much to the confusion of his devoted mother who is a strong believer. Ian’s still living at home, and rather than having a stable life like his brother, he is instead living in the moment, not working, and travelling around the world with his friend Greg, trying to find the perfect wave to surf. With Scott Eastwood portraying the protagonist, we immediately are presented with a modern day retelling of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). Ian wants to leave the nest and explore the world, while his brother Michael chooses to stay home and put down his roots with his girlfriend, and later fiancé. On a whim one night, Ian decides with Greg to chase the perfect wave, and then travels from his home in New Zealand to Australia, Bali, South Africa and Mauritius.
Along the journey to chase the waves, Ian and Greg meet up with the local Australians, and after having a blast surfing, drinking and picking up women, Ian decides that it’s time to embark to the next place, and we wonder if the whole movie is going to be as repetitive. However the pace quickens just a bit; with the turning point in the film occurring when Ian ditches Greg in Bali in favour for a girl he just met in Bali. Annabel, brilliantly played by Rachel Hendrix from October Baby, is a free spirited and carefree individual who isn’t subtle in what she wants. And from the get go, it’s clear she wants Ian as a boyfriend. Somehow, Ian is smitten, and then he and Greg diverge, as Ian and Annabel then travel to South Africa in search for his wave.
Of course this relationship is doomed to end in heartbreak, and that’s exactly what happens when both parties do not have a solid foundation, or just a foundation based on superficiality and flowery statements. Reminding us that a marriage, or a relationship between girlfriend/boyfriend requires hard work, commitment and communication, the film highlights the breakdown between Ian and Annabel’s liaison when jealousy takes over, when it is revealed Annabel has a special relationship with Lachlan, her brother-in-law (after her sister died). But it’s too late as when Ian recognises his mistake, Annabel leaves to an unknown destination and is not heard nor seen again in the film.
Though Rachel’s role could have been revamped or even omitted and the story still would have flowed, it’s clear that Bruce MacDonald was including this failed relationship of Ian’s (presumably how it occurred in real life) as a message and reminder that God’s love never fails us even when human love does. When human love disappoints, God is there guiding us- Ian’s plight of love gained and lost is a lesson, that love is truly love if it stands the test of time. If it fades at the drop of a difficult situation, then it probably wasn’t romantic love to begin with. Harsh, but true.
As Ian treks from country to country trying to see the wave he so desperately wanted to before he set out on the trip, his journey comes to a head in Mauritius. Late in the film, his brother proposes to his girlfriend, and Ian travels home to be the best man. But not before him and his newfound friends surf in the dark at night, in the waters where deadly creatures are lurking. But I guess Ian didn’t know that at that point, that there was a potential for animals to bite him and seriously injure him, because hey, he’s surfed at night before and nothing’s happened (at least nothing that was shown on the film!), so why should anything untoward or surprising happen now? Big mistake!
When I first saw the jellyfish on the screen on my TV on the pre release copy a few days ago, I knew that Ian would be stung. But what happens after is nothing short of a miracle. Ian is stung, yes, and is also pronounced dead at the local Mauritius morgue, but then he meets Jesus (was it in heaven? I’m not sure that depiction on screen of the ‘out-of-body experience’ was portrayed how Ian actually experienced it), and He gives him a second chance. From this new life, this new chance that God has given him, Ian refocuses his life, and though not much more is known in the film, some end of credits words show us that Ian is now sharing his testimony all around the world (and has been for quite some time), while Annabel is still searching for the meaning of life, and Greg and his girlfriend are surfing and have been chasing the waves for a while.
As far as Christian films are, there has been quite an amount of Christian and faith based movies released in 2014 so far. Noah, Mom’s Night Out, Heaven is For Real, God’s Not Dead, Mercy Rule, The Song (releasing at the end of September), Left Behind, 23 Blast (both in October), Saving Christmas (November) and Exodus: God’s and Kings (December) are all films with a faith element attached, and now The Perfect Wave is added to this strong quality list. Though the film is short, to me there is something about this visually stunning, breathtaking and picturesque 90 minute spiritual journey that makes me want to praise God and rejoice.
All throughout the overt film, God is referenced, which is expected in a Christian film. When you contrast the overt nature of Ian’s mother calling on Jesus, with the rebellious nature of Ian until his near death experience, high profile critics may be shunning this film calling it Christian propaganda, forcing down a view that people don’t want to hear. Well let me tell you that I have a different view- I don’t find the film preachy at all, and in fact I would say it’s pretty subdued, compared to other films such as God’s Not Dead, Courageous, Fireproof and the upcoming Left Behind. Still, the storyline would make some critics and viewers cringe.
Yet even though Ian’s 180 degree turnaround was quick, I believe it’s in the film because it happened that way, and the filmmakers wanted everything to be authentic in the actors portraying their real life counterparts. To me the film’s brilliance is that it doesn’t shy away from the uncomfortable topics. Ian did die (this was shown on film where one of his friends saw him dead at the morgue), and as messy as it was portrayed, Ian and Annabel’s relationship, if you could call it that, was real. Though I am not entirely sure how much more of the film was ‘stretched’ for Hollywood, what I do know is that Ian did have a change of heart (like Paul on the road to Damascus in Acts when he was still known as Saul), and that afterwards his life was completely changed. No longer wanting to search after the perfect wave, because he already found it in Jesus; it is what happens after the movie, what happens after to Ian that amazes us, as his life is now a beacon for others to gain encouragement and inspiration from.
As far as acting is concerned, Scott Eastwood is a big enough name for non-Christians to be drawn into this film, yet comparisons to Clint may leave the viewers dissatisfied- no one can replace the acting of Clint, not even his son (but to be fair, his portrayal of Ian was solid and fairly convincing). Rachel Hendrix acts beautifully and brilliantly with what she is given, and considering that October Baby was a role that portrayed her as a broken, vulnerable teenager struggling with the idea that she was adopted and also almost aborted, this almost 180 degree acting change highlights her prowess as an actor. Cheryl Ladd and Patrick Lyster don’t really have much to do except talk to their other son and pray for Ian, and Ian’s friends could have been played by anyone else and the story would have still had its desired effect (perhaps that’s why they hired some surfers instead of actors to play the role of his friends, as Ian’s friends weren’t the focus, but Ian was).
So while the acting collectively is not as hard hitting or poignant as other films, what makes the 90 minutes worthwhile to me is the out-of-this-world scenery and the redemptive storyline, the message that no one is too far gone for the love of Jesus to wash all over them and be made new. Though the message is cheesy and cliché a bit, it is true, and even if one person in the world is impacted by the film and comes to Christ, the film would be a success. Bruce MacDonald should be proud no matter what The Perfect Wave earns, and I look forward to his upcoming projects. In fact I look forward to Rachel’s and Scott’s new projects as well!
When you compare The Perfect Wave with other films released in 2014, it may not stack up come year’s end, against films like Exodus, Left Behind, and The Hobbit 3. However, the indie film shows enough heart and human interest for us to be interested in Ian’s journey. If someone wasn’t a Christian before, maybe they are now. A film where the main and overarching theme and important message is about the immense love of God for his children; The Perfect Wave is a gem, and a must watch in 2014, even though it might not be one of my all time favourite movies. As Christian film, everyone involved has created a masterpiece, and if not anything else this film is a fantastic tool to evangelise to your non-Christian friends. Well done Bruce and co, Ian must be proud of his story on the screen!