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D: Helen Hunt / 93m

Cast: Helen Hunt, Brenton Thwaites, Luke Wilson, David Zayas, Elizabeth Jayne, Callum Keith Rennie, Robert Knepper, Leonor Varela

Helen Hunt’s first directorial outing, Then She Found Me (2007), looked at the relationship between a mother and her daughter. Hunt also co-wrote the movie, co-produced it, and starred as the mother. The movie has its flaws, but all in all it’s enjoyable enough, even if some of the relationships don’t ring entirely true. This time round, Hunt addresses the relationship between a mother and her son, and as before she co-produces, stars and writes (solo this time). The result is a similar movie in terms of the relationships, but one that also has its flaws.

Hunt plays Jackie, a literary editor whose twenty year old son, Angelo (Thwaites), is writing a novel as he prepares to go off to university. He’s having trouble with the ending, and Jackie isn’t helping. She’s critical when she should be supportive, and keeps undermining Angelo’s confidence. In effect, she treats him like a child who needs to stand on his own two feet but every time he tries she tells him he’s doing it wrong. Faced with this continual barrage, it’s no wonder that Jackie’s marriage to Angelo’s father ended years ago, and he now lives with his new family in Los Angeles, a continent away from Jackie and Angelo who live in New York.

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With his enrolment at university settled, Angelo takes a trip to see his father. Angelo loves surfing, and while he’s out in L.A. he spends most of his time at the beach. His love of surfing is so obvious that it’s unsurprising when Jackie learns he’s dropped out of university. Without a backward glance about her work commitments, or even if it’s the right thing to do, Jackie jumps on a plane and heads for L.A. And… here’s where the movie starts to become less about a mother and son relationship, and more about Jackie learning how to be less uptight and more relaxed.

This change in direction leads to the movie becoming disjointed and unfocused, with Jackie hijacking the driver who’s met her at the airport, Ramon (Zayas), to help her spy on Angelo and what he’s doing. It’s at odds with the direct, bulldozing approach that Hunt has established for Jackie, and while it’s meant to inject some humour into proceedings, it’s forced and not at all believable. Ramon becomes a bystander to Jackie’s odd behaviour and never once questions who Angelo is or why she’s following him. When she finally talks to him and he tells her he felt stifled by his life in New York and that surfing is what he wants to do, Jackie’s reaction is predictable: she accuses him of running away from being a writer and that he needs his education to succeed. And with no better argument, he criticises her in return for dismissing surfing when she’s never even tried it.

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By now the even occasionally astute viewer will be able to guess what happens next. Jackie decides to learn to surf, but crucially, Hunt leaves out any clear-cut reason for her doing this, and we’re treated to several scenes where she stumbles about in the surf falling over, unable to get on her board, and generally acting as if surfing was the easiest thing in the world to master. It’s an obvious case of schadenfreude, and Hunt milks it for all its worth, from the difficulty in getting into a wetsuit to paddling out to the breakwater. Eventually she accepts help in the form of a surfer called Ian (Wilson). And… here’s where Hunt’s script further downplays the mother-son relationship even further, as Jackie embarks on an affair with Ian, and Angelo’s story is reduced to a couple of scenes where he reveals a family secret to a girl (Jayne) he meets on the beach.

With Hunt splintering her story into several different directions at once, the movie becomes less interesting and less involving. There’s a big, angry confrontation between Jackie and Angelo that comes out of the blue and feels shoehorned in to give the movie some much-needed drama, while Jackie’s journey of discovery weighs things down to the point that the viewer could be forgiven for hoping that Jackie’s board will fatally clump her on the head when she gets thrown off. And the resolution, when it comes, is entirely dependent on Jackie repeating something Ian tells her earleir on, and which she takes to heart without even a second thought. We’re meant to think that because she has to learn how to surf, and she’s not immediately proficient at it, that this has a way of humbling her. But Hunt doesn’t connect the dots in this regard, and much of how the movie is concluded seems awkward and clumsy, as if Hunt didn’t have a clear idea on how to round things up.

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Hunt the director serves Hunt the star well, and there are glimpses in her performance that this could have been a different story entirely if Hunt the writer hadn’t felt the need to include so many surfing sequences (possibly in an effort to show how fit the actress is at fifty-two – though what appears to be one too many facelifts doesn’t help her case; her forehead is truly disturbing). With too many subplots thrown in at random as the movie unfolds, and with too many instances where Hunt’s script leaves a barrel big enough for two surfboards to plough through, Ride becomes an occasionally interesting viewing experience, and one that could have done with its script being tightened up considerably.

Rating: 5/10 – dead in the water for most of its running time, Ride‘s unfocused, repetitive script is its biggest downfall (how many times do we have see Jackie and Angelo text each other?); with a good cast given very little to do, and with Hunt unable to pep things up, it remains a movie that should be filed under Could Have Been So Much Better If…