Surfwise. The incredible true story of legendary Dorian "Doc" Paskowitz. Who is Doc Paskowitz? I don't know, but I think he surfs. Yeah.
The documentary, which arrives in theaters this Friday, takes an in-depth look at a rather intriguing man, who became a doctor at Stanford and was once considered a possible candidate for governor. While extremely intelligent, he was also a free spirit, and a domineering one that. His handling of his children is completely hypocritical as he refuses them to even go to school or live a normal life, essentially damaging them socially and otherwise for years to come. That said, director Doug Pray has managed to make a film about one of the few truly interesting surfers out there.
Unfortunately, Pray never establishes the significance of his character in either a historical or sporting way; he delves into the character, but never really explains why he's focusing on this guy in the first place. Sure, he tells us all of these facts about why he's so great (or terrible), but he doesn't show us. Most importantly, Paskowitz is allegedly best known as a famous surfer, but there's very little in the film about his surfing career. That's fine, as Pray wants to avoid the countless other surfing documentaries that all tend to blend together, but he fails to setup Paskowitz in the simplest of terms. I would have liked to see Pray's initial inspirations for the film - presumably the surfing - before he dives into the more interesting stuff.
Even when Pray is examining the odd family dynamics at work with the Paskowitzes, Surfwise never really connected with me. Pray presents a lot of interesting facts, but the film lacks cohesion. The movie's focus jumps around sporadically at times and never engaged me. Specific moments jumped out at me, but then Pray would drift on to something else and my attention would wander. Furthermore, Pray focuses quite a bit on Paskowitz's children and their frustration, even hatred, toward their father for prohibiting them a normal life, but we never really get Paskowitz's own point of view. Was Pray scared to approach him directly about the subject, or did Paskowitz simply refuse to discuss it to any great detail?
Regardless of the film's flaws, the very nature of Paskowitz begs for this documentary, as he is certainly a character in his own right. His love for love-making, his relationship with his children, his career history and even his wife are interesting. It's just a shame that his story isn't organized in a better way. Ultimately, Surfwise has its moments, but it's a shoddy documentary.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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