Let’s get this out of the way: there will never be a mainstream film about surfers that will “get surfing right.” Hell, there are plenty of surf industry-produced videos that don’t get surfing right. So, dispense with that notion before you see Drift, and you should have no trouble enjoying yourself. This is, above all else, a pretty fun film that you’d have to go out of your way to dislike.
Set in Western Australia in the early 1970s, Drift opens in 1960 with a mother and her two surfer boys fleeing Sydney and her alcoholic husband in a beat-up station wagon. They’re headed for Albany, but after a fortuitous breakdown in Margaret River, the boys, motivated by the sight of empty swell lines rolling into a picturesque reefbreak, convince their mother to stay.
Fast forward a dozen years, and the two boys are the hottest surfers in town. Andy (Myles Pollard), the older, responsible brother (and a dead-ringer for Jack Barlow in Big Wednesday) mows wood all day in a lumber factory while Jimmy (Xavier Samuel) mostly just wears flannels and tears up the local reefbreaks. After watching an old-timer at the lumber yard receive a gift mug from the boss after toiling at the mill for 50 years, Andy quits his job and decides the family fortunes lie in surf retail and boardmaking.
Shortly after, JB (Sam Worthington) a hippie surf photographer, trundles into town piloting a Merry Pranksters-themed party bus, with his Hawaiian girlfriend Lani (Lesley-Ann Brandy) in tow. JB’s anti-establishment vibe appeals to Jimmy and provides a tension between Andy’s entrepreneur strivings and a hackneyed ’70s soul surfer vibe. There’s also a dull-witted local cop, a rival surf shop huckster, and a low-level baddie/drug dealer acting as further antagonists, but the driving drama behind the film is whether or not the surf shop will succeed without JB driving the brothers apart. Everything’s resolved in the third act, and I’ll offer no spoilers here, but it isn’t difficult to predict where this feel-good movie ends up.
But, I hear you ask, what about the surfing?
Set aside the fact that this movie takes all kinds of liberties with the performance level of 1970s surfing, the surf scenes are great. Beautifully shot, with no obvious editing gaffes, (à la North Shore) the stunt surfers rip, though they’re clearly riding retro boards with modern bottom contours and fin setups. And yes, there’s a tow-in scene at least 15 years too early. An air is boosted and tweaked, in a contest no less, absolutely flying in the face of actual, real surf history. But who cares? It’s not a documentary. And it makes the surfing more fun to watch. Margaret River local Shaun Green doubles for Jimmy, as does, though I’m guessing here, Craig Anderson in reverse (Jimmy’s a regularfoot and Ando is in the stunt surfer credits), with Creed McTaggart doing some stunt surfs as well. I watched the movie on my laptop, but it would look so great on the big screen I’ll probably see it again in the theater when it comes out in a couple weeks.
Overall, Drift is lighthearted and fun. Pollard and Samuel’s brothers are likable, Worthington’s JB is kookily hilarious at times, and the filming is just gorgeous. There’s some cringe-inducing dialogue, sure. And it’s not the “Great Mainstream Surf Film” that many are waiting for. But it’s fun, and it’ll make you want to surf. And live in ’70s era Margaret River.