Jackie (Helen Hunt) travels cross-country to California to be with her son (Brenton Thwaites) after he decides to drop out of school and become a surfer, but gets more than she bargained for, both in her surfing abilities, and a new connection with her handsome instructor (Luke Wilson). 'Ride' is a touching tale of a changing dynamic between mother and son, combined with a journey of self-discovery making it a feel-good summer essential.
Helen Hunt has entered the age of doing softer, more comfortable films. Her latest picture - written, directed and starring herself - fits the profile of a picture built for light entertainment. The movie also has that sweet personal touch being dedicated in memory of her father who actually worked on the film. It deals with age, careers, love, happiness and loss with a warm and awkward tone. Oh, how I wanted to give this movie a big hug if only it had something more.
Hunt plays New York writer-turned-editor Jackie trying to deal with her aspiring writer son heading off to college. Even though he’ll only be a few steps away, Jackie is still frightened about him being on his own. At the same time, she wants to be honest and help him develop into a better writer without hovering over him. It turns out he isn’t very happy and dashes off to California to stay with his dad. Shocked by his sudden change of direction in life, Jackie hops a flight over to the East Coast where she can spy on and keep tabs on her boy.
While she comes to terms with letting go of her son, she spends the majority of her time learning how to surf given her son’s interest in the sport. Her ineptitude attracts surfing instructor Ian (Luke Wilson) who she naturally starts to fall for. The script pretty much writes itself from there. There’s some confrontation, some romance, some comedy and an ending built to reap some tears from the older members of the audience.
It’s a sweet picture to be sure - its heart firmly in the right place - but still flounders to give the characters something to do in its middle section. At one point Jackie notices that one of her son’s friends drops a bag of what appears to be weed. Fearing he may doing something worse, she comes to the conclusion that she should smoke it to be sure. That’s some parenting. Most of her child-spying hi-jinks feel straight out of a sitcom with her band of older gentlemen hiding behind docks and strategically positioning themselves at outdoor cafes. I’m surprised the movie didn’t just go full-on cliche by having Jackie wear a disguise as well.
Considering that Hunt spends most of the picture learning to surf, the footage isn’t half-bad. There are plenty of scenes with Hunt and Wilson both on surf boards attempting to actually surf. Hunt attempts to get back up on her board and slips off the board while in the water. Her lessons also feel real as though Wilson actually knows what he is talking about and that Hunt is actually learning something about surfing. Honestly, I would have been fine with the entire movie just being about Helen Hunt learning to surf as an empty nester.
The only reason it doesn’t take up the entire movie is because it probably doesn’t shoehorn in that extra layer of emotion that older audiences seek in these dramas. This is when the movie starts to become more amateur in how it tries to hit so many notes for a mother struggling to find happiness in the next stage of her life. Through goofy spying and bitter conversations, Jackie is built up as a rather worn woman that is mostly unpleasant until she finds that sweet spot of middle age. It’s hard to respect her on that level when the tone is all over the place with cliches as tired as its lead.
By the time Ride arrives at its climax of Helen Hunt finally making it up on a surfboard, I was a little impressed that there was something genuinely talented on screen rather than the usual middle age romantic tropes. Hunt still proves that she’s a fantastic actor who really buries herself in a role to an exceptional degree. Her surfing scenes were even perfectly showcased in a short video for the Huffington Post. She’s pretty good as a surfer - now she just needs a better movie to show it off with.