Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi (Wild Life, Free Solo) co-direct this incredible true story of long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad (Annette Bening), who at the age of 64 and on her fifth attempt swam from Cuba to Florida in a harrowing 110-mile open ocean swim through shark- and jellyfish-infested waters. With the help of her best friend Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster) and gifted ship’s captain John Bartlett (Rhys Ifan), Nyad finally achieved her lifelong dream in 2013. (121 min.)
Glen: This lady is absolutely crazy! I mean, I get it if you’re young, but to keep making this attempt after being stung by jellyfish and having near-misses with sharks seems more like a death wish. What I got out of this story is that mental determination is the most important element to an endeavor like this. You just have to have the fortitude to never give up. The story is written by Nyad in her book Find a Way and adapted for the screen by Julia Cox, so this is very much Nyad’s version. Apparently, the swim hasn’t been officially certified or recognized, in part because nine hours of night swimming wasn’t recorded and crew members—there was about 35 people along—had some differing accounts of those nine hours, but I have nothing but respect for this tenacious athlete. She’s determination personified.
Anna: Marathoning any sport doesn’t appeal to me, but I sure admire the determination of athletes like Nyad. She first attempted the harrowing swim at age 28 at the peak of her training and strength. What would drive someone to believe that they could succeed in what they had previously failed decades earlier while having to retrain in their 60s? It’s pretty mind-boggling, but Nyad’s determination never wavers. Bonnie reluctantly agrees to be her coach, but the journey for both women is just beginning. Through treacherous waters and bad conditions, Nyad fails her attempts over and over again. Yet she refuses to give up on her dream, and in the end—waterlogged, sunburnt, and hallucinating—she crawls onto the beach of Florida. Bening and Foster play these real-life women with grit and determination.
Glen: Nyad’s story is very open about how she was molested by her youth swim teacher, Olympian and Hall of Fame coach Jack Nelson (Eric T. Miller). Overcoming that trauma seems to have given Nyad something of a hard edge and helped her develop the mental toughness to swim for hours on end. Healing herself gave her superhuman endurance. Another achievement was swimming around Manhattan in just under eight hours in 1975, breaking a 45-year-old record. She’s a remarkable athlete who’s gone on to become a motivational speaker, author of four books, and journalist. Both Bening and Foster are superb in their roles. Nyad and Stoll had a complicated relationship—Nyad’s larger-than-life personality is a lot to deal with. Motivational and inspiring, Nyad’s story proves you’re never too old to take on a challenge.
Anna: The film did not paint Nyad’s journey as anything less than difficult and haunted by her past. Between exposure and rough conditions and dangerous sea creatures, it’s difficult for me to comprehend the amount of determination one would need to even attempt this feat. Kudos to the athletes out there who are like Nyad and never give up. Those strong personalities can also be difficult though, and Nyad is no pushover. This woman was absolutely not on my radar, but I really did enjoy Bening’s portrayal of this real-life swimmer. The film is certainly worth watching.
New Times Senior Staff Writer Glen Starkey and freelancer Anna Starkey write Sun Screen. Comment at [email protected].