Glasgow Film Festival reviews: Ride the Wave | The Novice

Following Scottish teenager Ben Larg on his quest to tackle giant surf, Ride the Wave is a nuanced departure from traditional sports movie narratives, writes Alistair Harkness
Tiree-based surfer Ben Larg in Ride the WaveTiree-based surfer Ben Larg in Ride the Wave
Tiree-based surfer Ben Larg in Ride the Wave

“Big-wave riding’s for macho assholes with a death wish,” scorned Lori Petty in Point Break. Not so according to moving Scottish surfing documentary Ride the Wave (****). Following Tiree-based teenage surfing prodigy Ben Larg as he transitions from global surfing competitions for under-18s to tackling formidable-looking breaks off the coast of Ireland, Martyn Robertson’s film – which just had its Scottish premiere at Glasgow Film Festival – is admirably devoid of testosterone, focussing instead on how this quiet, thoughtful, relentlessly bullied kid comes into his own on the water.

It’s also a film about Ben’s parents, and Robertson does a good job of exploring the often heart-rending decisions they’ve had to make to support him. Which isn’t to say there aren’t gnarly wipe-outs and Rocky-style training sessions, but having followed Ben and his loving family for four years, Robertson has a bigger story to tell, one that adds nuance and humanity to the driven outsider archetype beloved of sports movie narratives.

Hide Ad

Coincidentally, the festival’s Surprise Film delivered an almost ludicrously amped-up spin on this trope. Set within an all-women’s competitive collegiate rowing programme, The Novice (***) features a fine turn from up-and-coming actress Isabelle Fuhrman as Alex, a first year student with a monomaniacal determination to prove that hard work alone can trump simple talent.

Joining the rowing team on a whim, she becomes obsessed with besting the other girls, a physical challenge that starts exacerbating some deep-rooted mental health issues. The end result is a little Black Swan, a little Whiplash, and though debut writer/director Lauren Hadaway (who worked on Whiplash as a sound editor) finds stylish ways to immerse us in Alex’s subjective point-of-view, she loses track of the drama with an overblown and unconvincing finale.

A message from the Editor

Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription at

Related topics: