Adrift tells the true story of Tami Oldham, a young woman who survived a for 41 days on a boat after it’s been hit by a hurricane. Despite solid cinematography and performances, particularly by Shailene Woodley, Adrift boasts one of the worst scripts I’ve ever sat through.
One of the people I went to see Adrift with leaned over to me about a third of the way through and said, “This movie gets a hundred percent better the moment they stop talking.” And she was right! I hadn’t been able to put my finger on it, but as I watched I had grown increasingly irritated. I thought it was the predictability. There are obvious parallels between Life of Pi and Unbroken, but I tried to shove those issues aside–this is a true story! A woman survived this horrible trauma! That’s astounding and infinitely laudable. I can’t, as a human being, sweep aside the true, brave experiences of a woman who did something I know I couldn’t survive. I’d be done for on day one.
But my friend was absolutely right: the dialogue was utterly saccharine and cliched, and often entirely non sequitur from whatever else was going on. In no way does this reflect poorly on the performances of Woodley or Sam Claflin, who really do a tremendous job overall. They have excellent chemistry and transport us along with them through the horrendous trauma of a shipwreck (of a movie).
Tami Oldham (Woodley) and her fiancee Richard Sharp (Claflin) have landed a job to sail a boat from Tahiti to San Diego. Their boat is hit by a freak hurricane, leaving them with little supplies and a makeshift sail. Richard is badly injured, and Tami must do everything in her power to keep them alive.
The structure of the film works well: it alternates between the past, with Tami and Richard meeting and getting to know each other (insert every single meet-cute line in the book and cram them together here) and the present aboard the wrecked sailboat. Tami has been ship-hopping across the world, not looking for anywhere to land, working long enough to get money to take her elsewhere. And then she meets fellow wanderer Richard. They’re kindred spirits and a romance blossoms. It’s really sweet–if only they stopped talking. The dialogue makes bad romantic comedies look like Oscar-penned screenplays (and I don’t look down on rom-coms!).
Despite the (ship)wreck of a script, Woodley and Claflin, erstwhile dystopian heartthrobs, work well together onscreen. I believe them as a couple, and I believe Woodley as a hippie-ish woman trapped in a situation and drawing on all her strength to endure and survive it. While there are shades of Unbroken, there are also elements of Into the Wild, with this young adult making their way through a world in which she doesn’t fit. It’s worth seeing for the endurance and for the decent cinematography, but wait until it comes out for rental.
Tyler is a teacher, librarian and the Co-host of The Geek Card Check Podcast. He has been a Film Critic for Ready Steady Cut since 2018.