NYAD Review – An inspiring true story that falls flat because of inconsistent direction

By Amanda Guarragi
Published: November 4, 2023 (Last updated: November 6, 2023)
NYAD Review
Annette Bening and Jodie Foster in NYAD | Image via Netflix


An inspiring true story that falls flat because of the inconsistent direction between its water obstacles and the characters.

NYAD first premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this year and also had a short theatrical run before it began streaming on Netflix. When it comes to inspirational stories with great actors, Netflix has a knack for adding these films to their library. Co-directors Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi brought their documentary style to this true story and it worked extremely well.

Everyone has a childhood dream that they want to achieve. It’s the one thing that can keep you going in life. There’s this determination to reach your goals and get your desired results. However, society has been conditioned to think aging is bad. That the older you get the more incapable you become, and the more your dreams are hidden away to reminisce over and not to fulfill. After watching an inspiring film like NYAD, you will understand that age is but a number and that if you will it, it will happen.

Not only do you have the directors who worked on Free Solo and The Rescue, which are both anxiety-inducing documentaries that tell incredible stories, but you have two incredible actresses working together. Annette Bening and Jodie Foster have wonderful chemistry as they depict the life of two best friends who have struggled through so much together.

NYAD review and plot summary

Diana Nyad had one dream and it began when she was a little girl. She was an incredible swimmer and it was a form of escape for her because of how absent her parents were. She practiced hard and found happiness with her troupe at school. The older she got the more invested she became in becoming an Olympic athlete. Diana (Bening) met her best friend Bonnie (Foster) in high school and they have been friends ever since.

This film tells the true story of how Diana Nyad trained at the age of 60 years old to swim 100 miles in the open ocean from Cuba to Florida. It’s a dangerous feat, especially in open water, but she was determined. No matter what obstacles she faced she kept pushing. Diana did not take no for an answer and she overworked herself to the point of sickness. She had such a tough exterior and was a bit of a narcissist.

What is important about this story is that we don’t have many films about women in their sixties or later. Women don’t stop living at the age of thirty and films should reflect that. Bening was as great as Nyad and completely embodied her. She can be seen as an unlikable character, but Bening still makes you feel for her because of Nyad’s dream. Even though Bening played her well, it was Foster’s performance as her best friend that will connect audiences to her story. She had to watch her best friend almost ruin her body and die multiple times throughout the trials of the open water, but she stuck beside her. Foster was a ball of sunshine in comparison to Bening, and that’s why their relationship was so engaging to watch.

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Nyad had to face her past trauma which was her driving force in completing this 100-mile open water swim. She had to face weather changes, jellyfish, and death to make it through this swim. The film did overstay its welcome because of the repetition of the trials.

What didn’t work in NYAD?

The main issue in NYAD is the direction of the actors. You have two great actresses in Foster and Bening, but it fell into uncomfortable territory. There was a lot of dead air and it could have been the script to blame as well because the dialogue just wasn’t flowing properly. For a film to be inspirational there needs to be some sort of spiritual feeling and hopefulness. There was a disconnect between the characters and the story because the direction for the scenes in the water worked extremely well and were the most exciting aspects, but there was also a lot of focus on Nyad’s training that fell flat.

The reason why everything worked when Nyad went into the water is because the directors used their documentary-style filmmaking to capture her journey. They created such strong tension with the water alone. The water became a character itself towards the end. When Nyad was in the water the anxiety she felt came through and you could feel her struggling. The film could have benefitted from a tighter runtime and more focus on Nyad’s past to create a more dynamic character for Bening.

What did you think of Netflix’s NYAD? Comment below.

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