Film Pick of the Week: Nyad - review by Yvette Huddleston
Annette Bening gives a brilliant performance as long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad in this inspiring biopic about perseverance, resilience and refusing to give up on a dream.
As the film opens, Nyad is about to celebrate her 60th birthday. It is a milestone she has very mixed feelings about and it serves as a catalyst for a big decision. Now a respected sports broadcaster, as a younger woman Nyad was known for her extreme endurance swims, breaking records along the way, including in 1975 swimming around New York’s Manhattan Island and a 102-mile swim from Bimini in the Bahamas to Florida in 1979.
One particular achievement had eluded her – the 110-mile swim from Cuba to Florida which she attempted in her twenties but failed to complete. This is the one that she decides she is going to go for, much to the surprise of her best friend of many years Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster). “You couldn’t do it when you were 28, now you’re 60!” But that is kind of the point. Nyad is taking on ageism and sexism as much as the challenge itself.
She persuades Bonnie to coach her and the film charts Nyad’s gruelling training programme – back in the water after 30 years, she has to persuade her body to get back up to peak fitness in preparation for the extreme conditions she will be facing and the long distances she will have to endure. There are flashbacks to her childhood and the inspiration that her father provided – he recognised her talent and supported her early training – there is also reference to the sexual abuse she suffered from her swimming coach and the lasting emotional damage it has caused.
We then follow Nyad’s four attempts, starting in 2011, to complete the swim, hampered by rough seas, life-threatening jellyfish stings and near-misses with sharks until finally succeeding on her fifth attempt, after swimming for more than 50 hours non-stop, in 2013.
Bening is outstanding. She empathetically captures both the less likeable aspects of such a forceful, determined character as well as Nyad’s vulnerability. Foster’s role is the less showy one, but her quiet, understated performance is as impressive. The chemistry between the two women works exceptionally well and their portrayal of a complicated yet enduring friendship is totally authentic and believable. There could have been more exploration of what was behind Nyad’s drive and single-mindedness, but this is a fascinating drama about a complex, inspiring woman.