Nyad 2023 Movie Review
In a day and age where most movies are steeped in cynicism, there’s something oddly refreshing about Nyad. Yes, parts may be clunky, it may take a while to get going, and it doesn’t reinvent the biopic formula, but it’s still an ultimately successful crowdpleaser.
In terms of it’s inspirational story, Nyad follows a pretty straightforward plot of the titular characters attempts to swim from Cuba to Florida. This underdog/triumph of the human spirit storyline is by no means new, but it’s handled here with honesty and care. The start of things is rough-the first actual shot of Bening as Nyad is almost unintentionally funny, and it’s pretty obvious that the actors are not totally comfortable with their characters early on. But, much like Nyad herself, the movie gets better over time as the technical quality improves and the actors are able to flex their skills, and by the end you’re cheering right alongside the crowds for her success.
Diana Nyad, as a figure, is quite complicated. There’s no doubt that she’s has some incredible achievements, but she’s also been reported as self-centered, dishonest, and in general rather controversial. Walking in to Nyad, I feared that the filmmakers would opt to completely gloss over this to be more simple (and palatable to Oscar voters), but thankfully this is not the case. The movie chugs along with its traditional empowerment story, but along the way there’s tension between Nyad and her companions as her arrogance threatens to derail the swim. A lesson about “the power of teamwork” may seem cliche, and to an extent, it is. But the movie’s exploration of the way perceptions change based on your own humility adds an interesting texture to the proceedings that not all filmmakers would seek to include.
One of the most talked-about things regarding this movie is the acting, and for the most part, it delivers. Annette Bening as Nyad is thoroughly convincing and able to sell this rather idealistic yet egocentric woman without being totally unlikable, and the physical strength it must have taken to perform the swimming is impressive. It takes a while for her to fully warm up to the role, but once she does it’s a strong turn. Bening had a job and she delivered.
But the star of the show here is Jodie Foster. She imbues her character with so much personality and life force that she disappears into the role and is easily the best part about the whole film. Foster’s not given amazing dialogue to work with, and yet through sheer talent, she pulls the movie together to craft a complex portrait of a woman torn between dedication to her friend and her own self-actualization. If nothing else, watch this movie for her performance.
In the age of streaming this is exactly the sort of thing to fall under the radar were it not for awards season, but it has more heart than most film’s you can find on Netflix. This is not an incredibly well-made movie, but it doesn’t need to be. The core thing that makes a story like this work is the emotional impact, and it delivers. Nyad’s an imperfect but satisfying film, uplifting and well-acted enough to be worth a watch.