In "Ride," written and directed by Academy Award-winning actress Helen Hunt, the pedantic and controlling New York editor Jackie (Hunt) follows her college-dropout son Angelo (Brenton Thwaites) — an aspiring writer — to Los Angeles to steer him away from all things beachy, chill and, she judgmentally fears, sub-literate.
Instead, she discovers surfing, romance with a surf instructor (Luke Wilson) and a path toward self-actualization that gives her license to let go of her ironclad maternal grip. (In a sweetly wordless prologue scene, Hunt's young guardian mom sleeps sitting up against her boy's closed bedroom door.)
This is suitably engaging coming-of-middle-age material, but at nearly every turn, Hunt shines in one discipline while leaving much to be desired in another. The early New York scenes with mother and son bantering/sniping display crisp, urban-flair direction but carry a forced Mamet-like dialogue style. In California, Hunt and Wilson show solid opposites-attract chemistry during the surfing scenes, but their emphasis quickly sidelines Angelo as a character.
Getting Jackie to a place of contentment may be the focus, but it's best relayed through Hunt's naturally layered performance than her plotting skills, which unnecessarily tack on back story tragedy and that clichéd go-to for loosening up stuffed shirts: adventures in pot.
You can't blame Hunt for perhaps taking on too much — at least she wrote herself a complicated role in this sorry age for front-and-center movie women — but it doesn't always make for a smooth "Ride."
MPAA rating: R for language, drug use.
Running time: 1 hour, 33 minutes.
Playing: Sundance Sunset, Los Angeles.