There’s a bit too much going on in Helen Hunt’s Ride, perhaps because Hunt is doing a bit too much in it: In addition to directing, Hunt also wrote and stars, and unless you’re Orson Welles — even sometimes when you are Orson Welles — it’s a good idea to have someone around to tell you which lines don’t work or which scenes don’t quite fit.
But there’s a wry sweetness to this picture, about an overbearing New York editor and single mom, Hunt’s Jackie, who follows her college-age son (Brenton Thwaites, Prince Phillip from Maleficent) to Los Angeles, where he aspires to become a surf bum and writer, probably in just about that order.
As you can guess, Jackie has to learn what to hang onto and when to let go, and there’s lots of letting go involved: Her relationship with her son is based mostly on cutting remarks, followed by swift if earnest apologies that fly both ways. She has to learn to give him his space, which would be plenty of learning right there, but the plot also includes a number of extraneous components, including the long-ago loss of a child.
The picture’s simplest elements, like the casual romance that blooms between Jackie and the surfer dude who’s teaching her how to ride the waves, are the ones that work best. (He’s played by the preternaturally laid-back Luke Wilson.) Another plus: Hunt does her own surfing, and she looks freest and most relaxed when she’s perched atop a board, or tumbling off one. That’s when she seems to be truly having fun, and you can never have too much of that.