Set in the California surf culture over a twelve year period in the sixties and seventies, Big Wednesday follows the lives of three surf buddies whose lives are in the midst of massive change.
It has been described as an accurate depiction of the surf culture in California during that period, which is not surprising given Writer/Director John Milius (Apocalypse Now, Red Dawn) was a surfer in Malibu, and the inspiration for the film was taken from his real life experiences. Maybe that's why the film is so believable.
I first saw Big Wednesday at Cape Paterson Life Saving Club in Victoria, Australia when I was a teenage girl. I still remember the goosebumps I got, as the man known only as Bear, makes Matt (played superbly by Jan Michael Vincent) a special board in anticipation of a rare massive swell hitting the Californian coast. At this point, it is obvious Matt Johnson's life as a beach bum has to either continue a downward spiral or spin about in a different direction.
As a viewer, we want him to have his moment in the sun before everything changes, as these are the great memories of youth that will stay with us for a lifetime. The soundtrack is stirring and depicts the mood to perfection.
Even though it is still probably one of the best surf films ever made, you don't need to like surfing to fall in love with this film. It touches on themes of love, legends, dreams, friendship, war, family, loyalty and fear.
Although Big Wednesday was considered a box office flop due to the harsh reviews of critics and what many consider a really bad trailer, word of mouth spread as people rented the video in droves and it became an absolute cult classic over time. The film was far better and more intelligent than the trailer ever depicted and it became a runaway success on video and DVD.
But the question still remains "why does this film resonate with so many people?" I think its because we see a bit of ourselves in all of the characters, we all have a bit of dreamer and hero in us. We all have our weaknesses and struggle internally and externally with the choices we are forced to make in life. Each character in the story could be you, someone you admired, someone you loved, or someone that hurt you.
Milius tapped into the crossover from youth to adult along with complexities that accompany it in a setting that defined a period with characters that are unforgettable.
Big Wednesday is a film that truly connects with its audience and hits smack on many universal truths that run deep within us all. I believe it will remain a cult classic for a long time to come.
Big Wednesday (1978): Written by John Milius and Dennis Aaberg. Directed by John Milius. Starring Jan-Michael Vincent, William Katt, Gary Busey, Patti D'Arbanville, Lee Purcell