As I approach my 60th birthday in less than 6 months, I find that “Nyad,” picks up at exactly that same spot for Diana Nyad. Seeing that more of my life is behind me than in front of me, Diana sees the world through the same lens. While I may not have been a champion or an award-winning anything, anyone who is a female and approaching this point in your life will connect with our main character played skillfully and evocatively by Annette Bening.
For those of you who don’t know this woman’s story, she dreamed of being the first person, male or female, to swim from Cuba to the Florida Keyes. That’s 103 miles and more than 3 full days and nights in the water. The ultramarathon swimmer, failing at age 28, and looking in the rearview mirror of life, wanted to fulfill that dream…at age 60. Partnering with her best friend and coach, Bonnie (Jodie Foster), “Nyad” tells her story of determination, resiliency, and most importantly friendship and self-worth.
In the first scene of the film, we see immediately that Diana is oftentimes an unlikeable character filled with an egocentric view of the world. But let’s face it, anyone who attempts a feat like this has to be. Her relationship with Bonnie is the key to the story and the film as Bonnie understands Diana and people’s reactions to her better than anyone. While they once were together for a short time as a couple, their friendship drives the narrative. Bonnie steps in when Diana becomes too self-absorbed and covers for her irascible personality. And she also knows how to push Diana when she infrequently sputters. Tell Diana she can’t do something and she will prove you wrong.
Without giving too much away — if you don’t know or don’t remember what happened — Diana’s journey is a harrowing one. Hiring a navigator who knows the water’s unpredictability and the experts with novel ways of deterring shark attacks are just two components and characters who enter Diana’s life and world of training. Box Jellyfish attacks, Man O’ War stings, wicked storms, and so much more are all a part of her numerous attempts to fulfill her dream. By the time we reach the end of this story, our chests are tight and we clench our jaws as the tears stream down our cheeks.
To reach this level of emotion requires a screenplay that digs deeply and doesn’t hold back and Julia Cox, screenwriter, does exactly that as she adapts Nyad’s book “Find A Way.” With Nyad also credited with the screenwriting and producing, the film finds a way, no pun intended, to show us the good, the bad, and the ugly with Nyad. In other words, she’s real. And who better to bring her to life than Annette Bening? Bening finds just the right notes to play Nyad in order for us to root for her even as she pushes us away with her harsh words shot like arrows through the heart to anyone who dares to care about her. It’s a bold performance with subtle nuances confirming what we all know about Bening…she can do anything. Additionally, Bening gives us a demanding physical performance as a swimmer, and with this ability, she brings it all home.
The entire ensemble cast of character also finds the right notes making this a symphonic delight. Bonnie is played deftly by Foster and we see a deeply genuine friendship between the two very strong, but very different women. While we aren’t privy to all they’ve endured, however there is a surprising and tragic event, we know their relationship has withstood the test of time.
The cinematography is the icing on the cake for “Nyad.” We are in the water, under the water, and aboard the boat which means we experience as closely as possible everything that actually happened. It’s simply breathtaking.
“Nyad” is this year’s inspirational film; especially for those of us hitting that scary milestone in life. And as I look ahead to April of 2024, maybe this 60th year will be my year to do the Park City Triathlon…it’s been my goal for over a decade. Thank you, “Nyad” for reminding me that age doesn’t matter and to keep trying to fulfill my dreams.