For such a sycophantic paean to ridding oneself of Helicopter Parenting Disease, Ride begins rather unobtrusively, with Jackie (Helen Hunt), a Manhattan academic and book editor, reading as she rests her back on her young son’s closed door, scurrying away when the boy comes out to go to the bathroom. Much later in the film, when the script reveals, with the force of an atomic bomb, the nuances of a tragedy that tore her family apart, one might remember that initial scene with either empathy or animosity, given how the entirety of Jackie’s insufferable persona is so note-perfectly rationalized. In between, Jackie and her now-grown-up son, Angelo (Brenton Thwaites), lock horns on everything from his future as a writer to the distance between school and the family nest, trading barbs and witticisms, even over text message, with a psychotic abandon that brings to mind Hunt’s prior directorial effort, Then She Found Me, where dialogue also had the effect of a blunt-force trauma.
When Angelo goes away to Los Angeles to visit his father (Robert Knepper) and turns his back—unknown to Jackie—on his college prospects, he takes up surfing and dreams of following a less preordained path toward writerly success. Which is to say, he’s running from Jackie’s reach, and in a beach-bum writer played by Callum Keith Rennie, he sees holistic possibility. Jackie, inexplicably, follows suit, then dons one herself, hitting the waves—unknown to Angelo—in what at first scans only as a perverse act of displacement. This becomes another quasi-ruse on the film’s part: teasing us with a stridently comic depiction of a perpetually distracted elitist learning how to surf, and treating everyone around her as her lap dog (such as David Zaya’s poor chauffeur, who’s conceived as a kind of spit-taker supreme), only for her behavior to eventually be recast as a spectacle of delayed personal gratification.
Both Jackie and Angelo are written as know-it-alls, until their preconceptions are inevitably exploded, thus proving the other right; they’re simplistically understood as cut-from-the-same-cloth egomaniacs, who only appear to consider each other’s needs. Hunt, all the while, obsequiously tends to Jackie’s evolution as a parent through a flagrant indulgence of sitcom-ish scenarios. (Luke Wilson gets the shortest stick as a surfing coach who, all in the same scene, passive-aggressively pisses on the shrill Jackie’s injured foot—don’t ask—before fulfilling his role as future-and-bound-to-be-disposed-of fuck buddy.) It would be erroneous to say that Hunt, an incredibly openhearted actress, is contemptuous of the goal of “finding oneself,” but by placing Jackie’s hurt under lock and key for so long, daring us to cringe at the woman’s behavior only to then guilt us for ever judging her, she dilly-dallies around frank confrontation and reveals Ride as a harangue that self-defensively talks down to its audience.