'Nyad' Review: Take A Dip In The Sea With Annette Bening & Jodie Foster
You can't drown your Dianas, they sure do know how to swim. Directors Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin dive right into the deep waters of fictional films for the first time after honing their craft with acclaimed documentaries, presenting the biographical drama Nyad, written by Julia Cox who's adapting the titular Diana Nyad's memoir 'Find A Way'. Annette Bening plays Diana herself, a marathon swimmer known for her gruelling swims in the open seas. Planning together with her best friend Bonnie (Jodie Foster), Diana sets out to finally swim 110 miles all the way from Cuba to Key West in Florida, though this is in her sixties and 35 years after she failed at it previously. Facing hardship from sharks, jellyfish, strong currents and possibly her own personality, Diana is also guided by Bonnie and navigator John (Rhys Ifans).
Audiences, much like Diana, will also face a question about their persistence and stamina since Nyad gets off to a fairly rough start as its first 30 to 40 minutes are by far its weakest part, threatening in fact the entire experience at points due to the lacking absorption. Cox and the directors really struggle with the dialogue in terms of what it is supposed to tell about the themes in the movie or how all the edges have been smoothed out from people saying the lines, something that can often be found in people's memoirs as well. Luckily as we move toward what Nyad is actually about, which is this vigorous act of athleticism, we don't have to worry about that stuff all that much.
What Vasarhelyi and Chin are working with here is just a captivating story in itself and they do clearly recognise the sports drama essentials they must focus on. They are able to build a great ebb and flow with the characters' attempts which pulls you in and gets you invested enough in what they are trying to achieve. Whilst some of the archival footage feels more like studio note demanding one feel-good moment after another, the duo brings some of their documentary filmmaking flair with gorgeous wide shots of the ocean, unusual angles (executed by cinematographer Claudio Miranda) and different points of view. Yes, their storytelling is predictable but the big moments are well crafted, amplified by some fine work by the makeup and sound crews.
It is important to remember that when the odyssey isn't solid all the way through and the template is conventional, much of the dramatic tension is carried by the actors and thankfully Bening particularly is able to do that. She's delicately juggling the rather unlikable qualities of Diana and inherent magic of a remarkable story—and that is quite commendable—while she's getting strong support from Foster and Ifans who are both able to ground scenes and emotions in scenes that they share with Bening's difficult character. Foster is on shakier ground initially because the first act isn't giving her much to portray but once Bonnie's psyche begins to clash with Diana's, the actor finds new tides in their relationship. But again, that friendship asks the massive question in the film: will you stick around to experience the extremely rare highs?
Smileys: Acting, story
If you were smart, you'd swim away from Florida.