I think it’s probably bad when you’re watching a movie about two people fighting to survive in a crippled boat on the open sea and you’re wishing one of them were a volleyball.
But Adrift does kind of make you homesick for Cast Away and the enviable chemistry between Tom Hanks and Wilson. Certainly their relationship had a zing missing in the spark-free interface between Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin in Adrift, a particular problem as the movie is built around their romance.
Woodely is Tami Oldham, a California drifter out to see the world, taking odd jobs in ports all over the map, until she meets sailor and shipbuilder Richard Sharp (Claflin). They walk around tropical markets, try on cute hats, swim near waterfalls and then, in the evenings, share good meals and bad dialogue.
Eyelash-batting and goo-goo eyed romance do not seem to be the strong suit of director Baltasar Kormákur, probably selected because he made the sea-faring movies The Deep and Contraband, and is a proven hand in movies that require lots of shooting at sea, a notoriously difficult task.
He earns his money when Tami and Richard hire out to sail a boat across the Pacific to San Diego, and run into a Category 4 storm. Wind and waves snap the mast, punching a hole in the hull and leaving Richard with a bum leg and busted ribs.
So, Tami now must nurse Richard while taking over the tasks of repair, navigation, and piloting what is left of the their storm-damaged vessel, hoping to limp into Hawaii, itself an ambitious feat of dead reckoning.
There is the potential here for an engaging adventure/survival tale, wrapped in a story of a woman finding her self-confidence by drawing on untapped reserves of strength. But Kormákur fails to find any shape in the narrative of Tami’s actual or psychological journey. Tami’s behavior is inconsistent and confusing. We’re going to be OK, she assures Richard, but a minute later she’s candidly saying they’re sure to die, and a minute after that is confidently plotting a bold change in direction.
Also, their desperate situation seems at times not so desperate. Tami takes post-storm inventory and finds…water, canned beans, peanut butter, Spam. Also marijuana and booze. And a guitar.
Also fishing equipment, although Tami, a vegan, tells Richard she’d rather starve than fish because she doesn’t want another creature to suffer.
Well, then, Tami, don’t take them to see Adrift.
PS — if you’re a Woodley or Claflin fan, and you’re dead set on seeing this movie, based on a true story, don’t research it, or you’ll spoil the one narrative surprise the movie manages to conceal.
Woodley, for her part, is lucky to be heading back to HBO and another season of Big Little Lies. Her movies have been less artistically fulfilling — Divergent, Insurgent, Allegiant, and now, Submergent.
- Directed by Baltasar Kormakur. Starring Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin. Distributed by STXfilms.
- Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.
- Parents guide: PG-13 (violence)
- Playing at: Area theaters