I’ll be frank—the new movie starring big-wave surfer Frank Solomon is not actually a surf film. Well, not in the traditional sense anyway. Is there surfing? Oh yeah. There are clips of Solomon and friends charging bone-rattling waves in South Africa, Ireland, Puerto Escondido, and beyond. But with a complex storyline, meticulously crafted sets, well-timed punch lines, and one very-authentic-looking fight scene, Let’s Be Frank has much more in common with films by Wes Anderson or Guy Ritchie than Taylor Steele or Kai Neville.
Is there anything wrong with that? Absolutely not. In recent years, there has been a production-value arms race in surf movies, topping out last year with the ultra-high def, helicopter-mounted, slo-mo RED shots in John Florence’s View from a Blue Moon. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve now seen sky-high alley-oops and cavernous barrels from every conceivable angle (unless GoPro creates a dolphin mount for behind-the-wave follow shots, which they totally should). So now that we’ve reached the pinnacle of ways to capture surfing, technologically speaking, how can surf films continue to evolve?
Well, you can always bring in the long-overlooked craft of writing (in my completely unbiased opinion). Between Gold, Forbidden Trim, and now Let’s Be Frank, the last 12 months have seen a surge of wit and humor in surf films, as Sterling Spencer, George Trimm, and Peter Hamblin have put surfing in the backseat and let zany storylines take the wheel. In Let’s Be Frank, the story focuses on big-wave surfer Frank Solomon, but it avoids the pitfalls of a typical profile flick by using a surreal narrative framework: an overly-curious, overly-hairy man hears of Solomon and goes on a quest to find out who he is, while a mysterious antagonist, played by John Florence, tries to throw him off course. What ensues is a mind f-ck of unreliable narration, painting Solomon as everything from a murderous extortionist to bareknuckle boxing champ to international drug runner, with each fantasy beautifully shot and surprisingly well-acted. By the end, the surfing just becomes a device to move the story forward and provide an occasional break from it with breathtaking oceanic imagery.
If you are looking for a surf porn highlight reel to get you amped for your next session, this is not the movie you want to watch while waxing up. Nor is it the grooved-out surf flick you play in the background to set a vibe while you crack a few beers with friends. This is the movie you put on the biggest screen in your house, dim the lights, turn the volume up, and engage with completely. Films like this don’t show up very often in the surf world—perhaps most filmmakers, or the brands that back them, are worried about appearing gimmicky or somehow less “core” by not focusing exclusively on surfing—but Let’s Be Frank proves that they can be damn fun when they do.