2002 rewatch: In praise of the low-key radicalism and chill-hang vibes of Blue Crush

·10 min read

Every week, Entertainment Weekly is looking back at the biggest movies of the summer of 2002. As audiences struggled to understand the new post-9/11 world order, Hollywood found itself in a moment of transition, with upcoming stars and soon-to-be-forever franchises playing alongside startling new visions and fading remnants of the old normal. Join us for a rewatch of the first true summer of Hollywood's strange new millennium. Last week: Vin Diesel's xtreme waysThis week: Leah Greenblatt and Darren Franich surf into Blue Crush. Next week: Insomnia's Robin Williams returns to end the summer with One Hour Photo.

Blue Crush
Blue Crush

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DARREN: I'm a beach boy, Leah, so I've been waiting for Blue Crush all summer. Sun, waves, swim trunks all day, a shack that's steps from the coastline: What else does a summer movie need? Give this surfer odyssey extra points for extra stakes. Anne Marie (Kate Bosworth) is an Oahu prodigy just days away from her Pipeline Masters debut. A good showing there means the good life forever: sponsorships, magazine covers, corporations flying her wherever the crush is blue.

But her housekeeping resort gig can't cover the phone bill, the electricity bill, and the rent. Her mom's a deadbeat on the mainland, which means Anne Marie is the only thing keeping little sis Penny (Mika Boorem) out of trouble. She's figuring out a whole romance thing with quarterback Matt (Matthew Davis), who might just be using her for a vacation fling. Anne Marie is tormented by nasty face-smashing-on-rock memories of a near-drowning that derailed her teen surf career. Her best friend and roommate, Eden (Michelle Rodriguez), thinks she's slacking on pipe prep. Her other best friend and roommate, Lena (Sanoe Lake), is… chill.

Blue Crush looks gorgeous, because Hawaii is gorgeous. And director John Stockwell lets his camera linger out in the water, following surfers through and under gigantic swells. It's awesome even when it's silly, and it's silly whenever very some 2002 effects staple Bosworth's Nintendo-looking face onto someone else's body. This was a problem with XXX, too, and this film is some kind of generational sibling to Vin Diesel's Xtreme spytacular: a little less No Fear, a little more Billabong. I mean it as a huge compliment when I say that Blue Crush feels like cinematic puka shells — a bit of island flavor on a familiar tale, a dress-very-casual mood of no-rush cheerfulness.

At best, it's a leisurely hang. But Rodriguez brings a bit of fire as the resident shaper who thinks cutie Matt is a distraction. "Stop being such a Barbie!" she chastises Anne Marie, when her budding superstar pal starts ditching the beach for some bougie Little Black Dress-up. I can't decide if the romance is forgivably lame or unforgivably lame. Davis was an amazing Harvard heel in Legally Blonde, but the script borings him into a nice (and bland) guy, with way too big a role in Anne Marie's journey to Pipeline. As a lifelong non-surfer, I assume there are some authenticity issues here — cut to Bosworth talking about "the real Hawaii" — though I do think genuine surf hero Keala Kennelly is pretty cool as the film's guiding light. (Must admit bias here: Kennelly later played some kind of big wave prophet earth-mother in John from Cincinnati, a TV show I love helplessly.)

Did Blue Crush soar like a jet ski for you, Leah, or did it tumble into the reef? And how amazing is it that New Yorker writer Susan Orlean inspired this movie and Charlie Kaufman's Adaptation in the same year?

LEAH: You know it's funny, Orlean's original story was really about soul surfers, which is basically just a term for people who ride purely out of love for the sport, not cash or prizes. Patrick Swayze's Bodhi in Point Break would be a good on-screen example of that and ultimately Anne Marie too, though of course the Hollywood machine had to do its thing with Lizzy Weiss's screenplay, adding a squishy romance plot and a big climactic competition scene.

As someone who went as Bodhi one year for Halloween (wetsuit, zinc, shaman hair) and also will absolutely never get anywhere near a Pipeline-size wave unless it's to paddle around in the backwash, I guess you could say I'm a soul surfer by default: no cash, no prizes. But Crush, which seemed to be written off by a lot of critics as corny and commercial at the time, struck me more like a female Lords of Dogtown when I was rewatching; the stuff that's scrappy and dark and underbelly-ish lurking beneath all the girl-power bromides and rudimentary CGI. In fact it preceded Lords by a few years, but I do think the movie doesn't get enough credit for how low-key radical it was, Legally Blonde guy aside. It certainly passes the Bechdel test by a mile, and the way the action scenes are shot really captures how frankly terrifying it can feel to be at the mercy of the ocean when it goes full washing-machine, like a sand flea in a centrifuge.

But the texture you mention, the puka-shell hang, is what I think I like best about Blue Crush: the moments that are just three best friends rolling around in that slow-boat Chevy Impala, or being bad maids at the luxury hotel they all work at (it's a Marriott on Oahu, not the Maui Four Seasons, though the White Lotus vibes are strong). And where else do these girls have to go? They're young, they're poor, they don't have sponsors or coaches or even a visible parent figure, since Anne Marie's mom effed off to Vegas with her latest paramour. And of course they're in a sport whose most famous female representative in pop culture up to that point was a ponytail named Gidget, 40 years earlier.

We should definitely talk about Bosworth too, who may be kind of a Barbie physically, but is also pretty great in her first real lead, for a teenage actress who grew up jumping horses in Massachusetts and has to convince us she can rip kaiju-size waves like she's swimming in her own bathtub. That, and the natural chemistry of the cast, feels like a big reason why the Crush cult endures. But as a more land-bound kind of man, Darren, was that your takeaway?


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DARREN: I love the Dogtown comparison, and I think you're right to compare the films' scrappy edge. For all the drama I listed up top, Crush takes a meandering route to the final act's surf contest. Anne Marie and her crew bum around town, jockeying for waves, playing surf video games, pooling their last few pocket dollars for gas-station breakfasts. I love when they suggest $20 dollars as the hourly fee for surf lessons — only to find out that the resort charges $150. A lot of the central worries have a slice-of-life plotlessness. Penny parties a bit much. A local surf crew freaks out when Mike surfs their break. Anne Marie runs afoul of Mike's pal's preening wives and girlfriends. These are big moments that could be movie-length Issues, but Blue Crush amiably cruises past them.

I think that's a savvy decision, actually, leaving the right amount of focus on the scenes out on the water, which are frequently awesome. At one point, Eden jet skis off the island with Anne Marie in tow, hunting out huge waves to ride. The whole sequence is a stunner: the surfer tossed around underwater, Eden trying to stay afloat before they all go tumbling. Stockwell has a real gift for bigscreen waterworks, and a few years after this, he helmed Into the Blue, a very fun and much nastier tan-beauties-at-the-beach adventure. I dig his Blue period, and there's another training moment I love, so big and sweet and ridiculous that it made the trailer: Anne Marie running underwater, carrying a rock while she pulls Eden and Lena behind her. Friendship, determination, raw athleticism, bikinis: How did this film not make $200 million?

Of course, I'm willing to admit that the second-act tension (should I spend more time with this hot nice guy or should I practice my surfing more?) was not exactly the kind of high-stakes blockbuster storytelling that was dominating summers 20 years ago. In that sense, Bosworth strikes me as being way luckier than most young actors today. She's not selling you on, like, the cruciality of fighting bad wizards, or the need to defend the multiverse, or how important it is to live up to the legacy of some 50-year-old franchise. She's just a cool kid carrying a lot of weight on her shoulders, who likes room service but loves riding out onto the ocean with her girls.

You're a music expert besides being an everything-else expert, Leah, so I'm curious: What did you think of the movie's soundtrack? It sounded to me like a more curated mix of very-of-the-moment anthems than any movie we've talked about this summer. Is it embarrassing to admit that I really liked the P.O.D. montage? They were, they were, the youth of the nation!

LEAH: Dammit you just made me google P.O.D., and those "youths" are all like 48 now. But oh my God, yes to that to Crossfit-on-the-sea-floor scene, and to the peak 2002 of this soundtrack: Doves, Zero 7, Lenny Kravitz, Nikka Costa, N.E.R.D. Sing to me of low-rise pants and Motorola Razrs! Tell me your AOL Messenger tales! The one bit that felt like Fast & Furious or XXX, honestly, was when Anne Marie shows up at that house party to try to drag her delinquent baby sister back to tween-dom and the kids are all skating half-pipes and grinding their golden pelvises together on the dance floor; I swear Vin Diesel and Eve could have been just out of the frame, getting down about "underground websites."

Blue Crush didn't have those kind of ambitions, clearly, or at least not the budget; it cost $25 million against XXX's $88 million and got back $55 million at the box office, which made it the kind of modest success that doesn't really exist anymore. The middle ground between Sundance and Thanos has pretty much vanished in the last two decades, and I think we can agree that's not a good thing, for actors or for audiences. Female-centered stories of course have also historically struggled to find studio support, even though women make up the slight majority of moviegoers, and many of the backline people involved in Crush have acknowledged the compromises they made just to get the story on screen, our Harvard heel probably being one of them.

But I also love that when Davis's Matt asks Anne Marie what she wants, none of her answers are "a shiny Pipeline trophy, and a boyfriend to rescue me." She's basically like, I need money to pay the bills and my mom to be a mom, and I'd like to see a girl on the cover of Surf magazine. ("It would be great if that girl were me, but any girl would do.") She also knows what to do with the mean-girl Real Housewives of the NFL, though: Drag them to hell.

Anyways, I digress. This is a lot of words, Darren, for a movie that honestly just makes me happy. Eventually we got a sort-of sequel, and better CGI down the line; Bosworth even said recently that she has her own ideas for a followup. But slather me in Sex Wax and drop me into a Nintendo-face barrel; there will only ever be one true Blue.

Read past 2002 rewatches: