29 Nov 2023

Review: Nyad

From At The Movies, 7:07 pm on 29 November 2023

The film I enjoyed most this week was something of a surprise.  Nyad, which has been out on Netflix for a week or so, sounds like a description – a “nyad” is a sea nymph from Greek mythology.   But it turns out to be the name of long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad.

Nyad stars Annette Bening, who I admire but occasionally find a little overpowering. As, it turns out, so is Nyad herself.

And it also stars Jodie Foster, who I like rather more, despite a career often playing solitary women going out of their way to fend off anyone’s sympathy. 

Annette Bening and Jodie Foster in Nyad.

Photo: Supplied

An unlikely candidate for a buddy movie, is what I’m saying.  And yet, that’s what this is. But first let’s go back.

Diana Nyad was a high achieving athlete in her 20s.  She’d swum round the island of Manhattan and also from the Bahamas to Florida.

But it was the horrendous swim from Cuba to the Florida Keys that almost killed her. And she retired for 30 years.

But it was an itch that she couldn’t stop scratching, and at 60 she decided to have another crack at it. 

For this she needed help from her long-time friend Bonnie Stoll as her coach.

Nyad is being sold as a sort of LGBTQ sports story, but while both Diana and Bonnie are lesbian, it’s not what’s driving the story of Nyad.  

It’s about one woman’s almost insane drive to do a pretty much impossible feat.  And it’s about another woman who’s prepared to do whatever it takes to help out of simple friendship.

We watch Bonnie patiently pushing Diana into training longer and harder, while putting together a support team to help make it happen.  

The main thing they need is a good navigator, which was where her last attempt failed. Bonnie’s candidate is hard-bitten seafarer John Bartlett played by Rhys Ifans.

Ifans playing it dead straight for once. He’s good in Nyad opposite Bening – they fight all the time.  

But he’s even better playing with Foster as the Ron and Hermione to Diana Nyad’s Harry Potter – the self-appointed Chosen One.

The swim takes place. It’s exhausting. You don’t know how she does it. There are sharks and worse – all sorts of ultra-poisonous jellyfish, including the infamous man-o’-war. 

And she doesn’t make it, but she refuses to quit.

So, she does it again. And again. And again. She wears everyone down, mostly because she refuses to think of anyone or anything but this one thing she means to do.  

And somehow we find ourselves sticking with her when all we want to do is quit. And that’s thanks to one person - take a bow Jodie Foster.

The last time I saw Foster in a buddy movie was Maverick, where she made Mel Gibson lovable. That’s how good she is.  And that’s why you should see Nyad.

I believe the real-life Diana Nyad tends to play fast and loose with the facts at times.  She’s famous for being an incorrigible attention seeker, often with the real-life Bonnie rolling her eyes in the background.  

It doesn’t matter. This is one of those times when the film matters more than the facts.

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