Saturday, October 6, 2018
Director: Baltasar Kormákur
Starring: Shailene Woodley, Sam Claflin
Running Time: 96 min.
★★ ½ (out of ★★★★)
As a reality-inspired single location survival story, Adrift makes its biggest mistake in wanting to have its cake and eat it too, jumping between a young romance and harrowing disaster tale, all while making it glaringly obvious which it prefers focusing on. A lot of scenes work when taken separately and each would have made a fine film on its own, but taken together, it comes off as somewhat of a mess.
Hardly helping matters is a plot twist we've seen at least six or seven times before in this genre that sucks out whatever remaining suspense could have been generated from the set-up. But labeling this development "manipulative" almost feels inaccurate, naively implying it comes as any surprise at all. The device has been repeated so frequently we're almost past the point of complaining, and despite a true story at least supporting its inclusion this time, common sense still doesn't.
Even with relatively strong performances from co-leads Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin, much of the picture can't help but give off a YA All is Lost vibe, using the same initial premise behind that greatly superior Robert Redford 2013 survival at sea drama to craft a picture that instead shares more similarities with Woodley's own The Fault in our Stars. All is Lost was a movie that was about what it was singularly about and all the more affecting because of it, leading to a open-ended conclusion that showed respect for its audience and encouraged contemplation.
This treats its survival story as almost window dressing, or a narrative roadblock in the way of the studio reaching their ultimate goal of selling tickets to teens and tweens interested in two attractive young leads staring longingly into each others' eyes. It's not spoiling anything to reveal a rescue eventually comes, or that by the time it arrives the script gets so caught up in the love story that you forget there needs to be one.
It's 1983 when Tami Oldham (Woodley) and Richard Sharp (Claflin) embark on a 6,500 km journey on the yacht "Hazana" from Tahiti to San Diego, sailing directly into the path of Hurricane Raymond. With their boat destroyed and Richard missing, Tami must use her ingenuity and survival instincts to fight off the elements, as well as inevitable starvation and dehydration, while stranded at sea for 41 days. With little hope for rescue, she survives on canned food, builds a makeshift sail and attempts to navigate her way to Hawaii. This ordeal is intercut with flashbacks to her initial meeting with Richard and their developing realtionship, tracing the steps they took that eventually lead to them boarding that boat, a fateful decision that would forever alter both their lives.
Based upon Tami Olham's own autobiographical account of events, "Red Sky in Mourning: A True Story of Love, Loss, and Survival at Sea," the film's skillfully edited in hopping between the two timelines in a manner that rarely feels jarring or confusing. Still, you can't help but wonder how this would register if instead of jumping between the disaster and meet cute flashbacks, we were given the linear story told to its conclusion. And that's not because the scenes involving Tami and Richard's relationship are poorly conceived, as many are quietly affecting and even occasionally moving, at least as far as screen romances go. But with time being split with the far more engaging survival-at-sea sequences, everything kind of settles into a predictable rythym, the narrative ambling along with no real forward momentum or tension. It's no sooner than when Tami's fighting to stay alive on the damaged vessel, that we're taken back a few months to Richard serenading her in a resturant. And transitions like those happen a lot.
While it's easy to appreciate what director Baltasar Kormákur was going for in getting us to care about Tami and Richard's bond (and largely succeeding to an extent), the survival aspect of the film isn't given the breathing room it needs to leave its necessary impact. Part of this could be attributed to the PG-13 rating, which really does feel like a concession in that there's a nagging sense that the studio or filmmakers were holding back in some way, at least compared to other more brutal, harrowing on screen depictions of nautical disaster. It isn't lacking in realism so much as pure intensity, most of which is made up for by Woodley's performance.
As the firecely independent, free-spirited, relentlessly creative protagonist, Woodley's depiction of Tami is what the film really has going for it, her authenticity helping to cover that aforementioned imblance and fluff that exists within the narrative. Claflin's a natural too, but most of the workload falls on her in terms of carrying this through. Woodley's put through the emotional ringer and believable enough that her work walks right up to that line of award-level greatness without ever truly crossing it, if only due to the inherent limitations of a script that's frequently undercutting it.
That Tami's survival instincts almost completely hinging on the affections and support of a man results in an experience that couldn't feel less timely or more regressive given the curent cultural climate. If they goal was to make Adrift a full-fledged love story, maybe they just should have done that since it's nothing incredibly special otherwise. Instead, we're left with two halves of what could have been, struggling to form a cohesive whole.