FILM REVIEW — Cheering on “Nyad” is easy to do

Published 12:02 am Friday, November 3, 2023

“Nyad”

Netflix Studios

Directed by Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi and Jimmy Chin

Starring Annette Bening, Jodie Foster, Rhys Ifans, Karly Rothenberg, Jenna Yi and 

Rated PG-13

3 ½ Stars

I’m a big fan of sports biographies. I enjoy cheering for an athlete as they overcome obstacles that would stop a mere mortal like me.

Even when a sports flick is obviously mediocre, the odds are that it will still pack enough of an emotional punch to get me on my feet and cheering.

So, you can imagine how thrilled I am with the new movie, “Nyad.” Not only is this a story about an impressive feat of athletic endurance, but it also deals with issues of aging, plus a very complicated title character and two superb performances by Annette Bening and Jodie Foster.

If for no other reason, “Nyad” deserves acclaim for giving these two talented actors a film that showcases their remarkable talents.

Annette Bening stars as the titular character, Diana Nyad, the long-distance swimmer who swam from Cuba to Key West. She attempted this 110-mile swim several times, but finally achieved her goal at the age of 64. It’s a remarkable story of determination and perseverance, and one that had me cheering twice as hard due to the fact that she accomplished her swim at an age when most of us are content to sit on the couch at home.

It helps that Nyad had help in her quest. Most notably is her best friend and former lover, Bonnie (Foster). Since Nyad spends so much time in the water, it’s up to Foster to help us see why we should be so obsessed with her accomplishment.

I love Foster’s performance here, and hate that we seldom get to see her in movies these days.

It’s interesting that Bening isn’t as easy to love as she’s playing a prickly character whose single-minded obsession makes her sometimes feel like more of an automaton than a relatable human.

She’s also prone to over exaggerating her accomplishments, which can be off-putting to see in a movie’s protagonist. She’s not an easy character to love, even while it’s easy to love what she accomplished.

That’s also true for her age, as most sports movies follow a character who is in their physical prime. As somebody who is fast approaching 60 myself, I found Nyad’s obsession with cementing her legacy before it’s too late to be truly affecting.

The film does make a few missteps. A subplot about abuse from a former coach seems like an afterthought, and the inclusion of actual footage of Diana Nyad within this movie can be jarring.

But these are small quibbles, and perhaps the last one is even understandable given that the film is directed by two Oscar-winning documentarians.

Despite all of this, “Nyad” is still a rousing sports movie that will have you cheering on the swimmer’s success while cringing at the thought of shark attacks and stinging jellyfish. It’s a testament to the human spirit, but also to the sheer talent of Annette Bening and Jodie Foster.

Movie reviews by Sean McBride, “The Movie Guy,” are published each week by Orange Newsmedia and seen weekly on KFDM and Fox4. Sean welcomes your comments via email at sean@seanthemovieguy.com.