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MOVIE | An aging woman’s quest to complete a 103-mile swim illustrates grit and determination but ends on a shallow note

Liz Parkinson/Netflix

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Rated PG-13

In 2011, 62-year-old Diana Nyad attempted to swim from Cuba to Key West, Fla. Nyad had tried and failed to complete the 103-mile marathon-length swim 33 years before. No one had made the trek successfully, and almost everyone thought Diana was too old for the challenge. Nyad dramatizes the swimmer’s journey to achieve the impossible.

The film portrays Diana (Annette Bening) as an aging woman who isn’t content to sit back and enjoy her sunset years. After celebrating her 60th birthday, the retired swimmer convinces her best friend Bonnie (Jodie Foster) to help her train for the swim. Clips of the real-life Nyad pepper the movie.

Some of the clips indicate Diana Nyad wasn’t a terribly humble person. She’s consumed with her own ambitions, often at the expense of others’ feelings. Bonnie, on the other hand, cheerfully puts her own schedule on hold to support her friend. They hire John Bartlett (Rhys Ifans), a weathered mariner, to act as their navigator. If the distance alone weren’t enough, Diana will face sharks, hazardous weather, and the deadly box jellyfish.

Diana Nyad is a self-proclaimed lesbian, and there are brief nods to her sexuality throughout the film, including an unsuccessful attempt at flirting with another woman. The movie tries to normalize homosexual behavior with brief but clear nods to the LGBTQ agenda. A lesbian couple features in one scene. In another, fans in Key West greet Diana with rainbow flags (which seems historically accurate since rainbow flags are fairly ubiquitous in Key West).

The writers avoided the temptation to take creative liberties in depicting the relationship between Diana and Bonnie. There’s no lesbian romance here, just a platonic relationship that showcases a fun, sisterlike chemistry between Foster and Bening. The most inappropriate moment in the movie is a flashback scene in which Diana’s swim coach assaults her when she was a teenager. The portrayal isn’t graphic, but it is disturbing.

With a two-hour runtime, the movie could have been shorter. Nixing CGI-aided scenes of an exhausted and hallucinating Diana would have helped. As Diana attempts to make the crossing five times, viewers might begin to share some of her frustration.

But viewers will see character development. Diana has a sizable ego in the beginning of the movie, and Bening’s performance shows her grow in humility. All the same, I couldn’t help but feel like the movie ended on a shallow note. It’s easy to admire Diana’s grit, but it seems like she was reaching for a piece of eternity. As satisfying as the endeavor must have felt, I can only imagine it didn’t provide the lasting sense of immortality she was looking for.

Bekah McCallum

Bekah is a reviewer, reporter, and editorial assistant at WORLD. She is a graduate of World Journalism Institute and Anderson University.


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