Annette Bening gets her laps in as the swimmer who refused to give up.
“Nyad” is the true story of how swimmer Diana Nyad became the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark tank. She tried and failed in 1978, but eventually succeeded in 2013. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds. She had to deal with hypothermia and dehydration, but her biggest challenges included storms and box jellyfish.
Making its way to select theaters and on Netflix, the movie takes the audience into her life, dreams, and troubles. And it wants to represents the high spirits within the challenges and pathos this true story offers. I’ve never heard of this swimmer before, but that doesn’t mean I can’t see her moxie.
Annette Bening stars as Nyad, who celebrates her 60th birthday with her best friend and former lover Bonnie (Jodie Foster). She hasn’t had her long swims in about 30 years, and now, she dry one that was considered to be impossible. Swimming from Havana, Cuba to Key West, Florida. No shark tanks. I’m thinking and I’m sure Bonnie is thinking: “What are you gonna do when a shark comes?”
That’s when she assembles a team, who have the technology and safety tools to make a shark swim away. Okay, that solves one problem.
Another problem is the jellyfish, whose tentacles can kill you, if you aren’t treated soon. And that’s why, eventually, Nyad must wear a swimsuit and a silicone mask that makes her look like a masked killer or bank robber. Before she wears them, we see her in pain in the water and in her hospital bed when we can see her sing marks.
There are also flashbacks to her abusive childhood, when she started swimming fell for her coach, and dealt with her father. They often come and go, but the real humanity comes within the present scenes, especially when she admits her troubles to Bonnie.
And there are also arguments within the journey. The chief navigator John Bartlett (Rhys Ifans) tries to warn Nyad about an upcoming storm that she won’t pass, while Bonnie eventually criticizes her for almost dying. It’s nearly impossible to talk some sense into an ambitious person, especially if they have a past they want to escape from. So, it’s easy to acknowledge the dialogue and tone presented here.
“Nyad” was directed by husband and wife documentary filmmakers Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasaarhelyi, who both won the Oscar for “Free Solo.” They make their feature debut with realism and depth and emotions within the real life swimmer, and have Bening delivering one of her best performances. There are times when the screenplay gets cynical, but there are also times when you’re rooting for her to reach her dreams, even though it’s suggested how impossible this swim was.
The real Diana Nyad wrote the screenplay with Julia Cox, and they and the documentarians want to lift our spirits. They play classic hits from Simon & Garfunkel and Janis Joplin, among others, they sneak in some humor, and they have a great cast taking us into this true story. I’m not a graceful swimmer, and I don’t like swimming in the ocean at night, so I won’t be swimming from Cuba to Florida anytime soon. But I can watch and enjoy this movie, and I’m sure you will, too.
Now Playing in Select Theaters and Streaming on Netflix November 3
This article was written by me with full support of the SAG-AFTRA strike.