PG-13. Be glad that I checked the parents' guide because I forgot about a ton of stuff. Nyad is firmly a PG-13, with it's one f-bomb and a spattering of mild curses. But one of the major conflicts of the movie is how Diana deals with how she was raped by a trusted person in her life as a child. The movie also is uncomfortable with how much Diana tortures herself to achieve her goal. PG-13.
DIRECTORS: Jimmy Chins and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi
I don't think that there's ever been a movie that I've teased more while simultaneously unironically liking it. There are so many checks against this movie that I should absolutely hate it. I mean, you've heard me bemoan the glut of biopics around award season, right? It's not like it even breaks the mold of the sports biopic. It's incredibly paint-by-numbers. I don't like sports movies, for the most part. There's a check. Also, this is the worst kind of sports movie. It's one of those things that, while impressive, is fundamentally stupid and selfish. Somehow, through all of that, Nyad works. Let's try to figure out why.
As of right now, it might have just been the right movie at the right time. It happens. I'm wondering if my applause over Flamin' Hot was just a timing issue, based on everyone else's take on that movie. I want to break down what I was feeling during the movie, just so you can completely grasp my headspace. My wife and I kept on joking how stupid the entire notion of the film is. One of the running gags we had going was the absurd locations to swim from. The movie chief external conflict is Diana's choice to swim from Cuba to Key West. The English Channel, the previous silly distance to cross, had been done by too many people and thus, the next insane swim would be a sixty hour swim from Cuba to Key West. One of the key motifs is the phrase "It's can't be done." To some, that is a challenge. To me, I'm kind of on Team Welp. "Welp, guess that's that." I know. It makes the villain in these movies. Sometimes, "It can't be done" is a valid challenge. Sustainable energy? Can't be done? Let's try. That's pretty good for humanity. Explore space beyond our galaxy? Yes, please. That's great!
But Diana Nyad's crossing of that large stretch of distance? It's kind of just impressive. That's it. Here's me going on a limb giving it some significance. It's a commentary on dismissing the elderly. That's the big takeaway. Fundamentally, one of the elements of the movie isn't that Diana Nyad did something dangerous and stupid that no one else could do. It was that she was an old lady, way past her prime, and she still did what was impossible, mostly because she didn't give up and had a team that was willing to do whatever to make sure that she did it. I mentally and emotionally could understand what made what she did impressive. Heck, by the end of the movie, I needed her to make it to Florida. If she didn't make it to Florida, I too would have rioted. But there was this almost immediate letdown after it was all over. I had this overwhelming feeling of "Well, that's done now, isn't it?" Because nothing in the world really changed from that, did it? I know. I'm being incredibly dismissive of something that was incredibly challenging. But from a guy who doesn't like sports, it kind of is the equivalent of me spending every dollar I have and devoting my whole life to making the most unimaginably huge tin foil ball that sat in a field.
I wish I could say that the entire life story of Diana Nyad was what captivated me. This makes me a broken person, so please forgive me, but I would have preferred so much more of the story devoted to the horrors she endured. Somehow, that quintessential backstory was kind of rushed through. I get it. Diana Nyad didn't define herself by the rape and abuse she went through. She refused to let that be her story. She even goes as far, in the film, to confess that she has paradoxical feelings about her rapist's passing. That's fascinating. But I also don't know what to really talk about with these moments when they almost feel like afterthoughts to the film. The film uses her abuse as a parallel for when things go rotten in the water. When she struggles in the water, her thoughts go back to those moments when she wasn't in control and I suppsoe that it is effective. But it is also a weird narrative device because I don't know if the real Nyad would have made the connection between being stung by jellyfish and her tragic backstory. These moments were so important, but they aren't presented in a way that made me feel anything beyond "It was as painful as jellyfish stings." That's not the intention, but it often was the effect of these scenes.
No, the movie works because of a couple of cool scenes and a chemistry between two actors who are absolutely nailing it on screen. I don't think I've seen Annette Benning have as much fun as she's having in this movie in a long time. She often is given stringent and abrasive women to play. It's what Hollywood seems to give her. But this is one of these women who refuses to get pushed around and it seems charming in this one. There's something both incredibly frustrating and simultaneously joyful about the way that she portrays Nyad. There are times when I asked if Diana Nyad was supposed to be on the spectrum simply due to some quirky behavior, coupled with her failure to handle the nuance of group dynamics. I never really got an answer to that, but I didn't care by the end. Benning honestly might even deserve Best Actress for just having to be in the water that long. Before you scoff at that, we kind of gave it to Leonardo DiCaprio for The Revenant with the same reasoning. But even beyond that, she's just giving her all with that performance. It's quirky yet grounded and I get why she gets nominated here versus other years.
But are we about to give the MVP to Jodie Foster? I mean, it's a little bit on a curve and let me clarify that. Jodie Foster tends to play these introverted and dark characters all of the time. She's always doing dark and horrible things. When she's playing an out lesbian who cares about mental health and has friends, it's so weird! Like I'm not used to this. The weirdest part is that she's really good. Benning portrayed Nyad intentionally as someone who is a little hard to love at times. It's tough when the movie is named Nyad. But Jodie Foster? Jodie is both the avatar for the audience and the hero of the piece. She's this absolutely beautifully grounded character who seems fun, yet self-sacrificing. She's a little bit of a carpet that Nyad walks over, but has these moments where she can get in her face. It's this real portrayal of someone who just felt real. Again, not a sports guy. I don't know what the real Diana Nyad was like. I have a feeling that she probably was a bit much. But Foster plays Bonnie in the way I imagine that the real Bonnie probably acted. It's fascinating.
In a million years, shy of Silence of the Lambs, would I be lauding far-too-many words over a Jodie Foster performance. This sounds like I don't like Jodie Foster. I do. I just think that she's been turning in similar performances for decades (which lots of actors do! Anthony Hopkins fans need to be a little harder on themselves. By the way, he was also in Silence of the Lambs.)
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.