By now, you've likely already figured out for yourself if you fancy Shailene Woodley (the Divergent Trilogy), a likable enough young actress whose bold, somewhat quirky personality seems to rub some folks the wrong way. If you like Woodley, even love her, then there's a pretty good chance you're going to find enough about Adrift to make it worth your while. If you're in the anti-Woodley camp, however, there's really not much in Adrift that's going to change your mind and it may, in fact, simply reinforce your doubts.
In the fact-based Adrift, Woodley is Tami Oldham, who set sail in 1983 with her fiance, Englishman Richard Sharp (Sam Claflin, Me Before You), from Tahiti on a 44-foot-yacht for a 4,000 mile journey ending in San Diego. A few weeks into their journey, the two encountered Category 4 Hurricane Raymond's epic 40-foot waves and 140-knot winds leaving the yacht in ruins and Richard severely injured.
A drama/thriller/romance, Adrift wraps itself around Tami's seemingly impossible effort to save herself and Richard, the only man she has ever loved. And loved. And loved. And loved.
We're reminded quite often that they really love each other, an odd fact considering the love story is actually the weakest part of Adrift.
To her credit, Woodley is an absolute blast to watch in the film's most adventurous scenes. A producer on the film, it's clear that Woodley knows her way around a ship and her scenes fighting for survival are easily the film's finest and most compelling scenes. Unfortunately, they are not the only scenes in Adrift and it's in these other scenes that the film barely stays afloat.
Co-written by Aaron Kandell, David Branson Smith, and Jordan Kandell, Adrift is based upon Oldham's true story, though if you're familiar with her story at all you already know that the screenwriting trio took some significant liberties with core components of the real life experience. While many, maybe even most, won't be bothered by this it's notable precisely because the film's weakest scenes involve dramatic license.
While certain truths become revealed courtesy of the film's mostly inneffective use of flashbacks, Adrift manages to remain an involving and emotionally resonant film during these scenes precisely because Woodley seemingly immerses herself in Oldham's emotional and physical journey. The film's early dating sequences are timid and unconvincing, Claflin ill-equipped to manifest anything resembling an authentic emotion while Woodley seems surprisingly detached herself and perhaps unable to whip up that romantic drama without a convincing co-lead.
If Kormakur had trusted Woodley's ability to carry the weight of an action-packed, high adventure motion picture, in all likelihood Adrift would be getting a solid thumbs up from this critic. Instead, however, Adrift goes off in unnecessary directions and we're left anxiously awaiting the return of the action sequences so we can watch Woodley be badass again.
Adrift isn't so much a bad film, it's simply not the film it could have been and should have been. It's easy to understand why Woodley was attracted to this story, a rather remarkable story that unfortunately isn't quite trusted in the way it should be. Woodley manages to stay afloat even when the script threatens to drown her. The film's tension is real, but it's never earned and that lack of authenticity makes Adrift the kind of film that never draws us in enough to make us care about these characters and what really happens to them.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic