Monday, April 22, 2024

Water Nymph

Film: Nyad
Format: Streaming video from NetFlix on Fire!

Of all of the Best Actress movies I have to watch for the last set of Oscars, Nyad is the one that I was probably the least interested in seeing. This has nothing to do with the subject matter; Diana Nyad is a certified badass and I won’t hear anything different. The main reason is that I’m generally less than enthused about Annette Bening. I don’t specifically dislike her, but I also don’t tend to choose much that has her in it. But Nyad is on the list, and so I figured it was worth watching.

Nyad is the story of Diana Nyad, arguably the greatest distance ocean swimmer in history and her shattering swim from Havana to Key West, more than 100 miles of open ocean. Naturally, she had a full team of people assisting her—coaches, navigators, pilots, crew whose job it was to keep sharks away from her, and more—but the rules of the actual swim were that no one could actually touch her and that she could have nothing like a shark cage around her. The swim itself was unassisted. Even feeding and water had to be given to her off the boat but without actual physical contact.

Of course, we’re also going to get a lot of biography here as well as a lot of history. Nyad performed several interesting open water swims, including swimming around the island of Manhattan in just under 8 hours. But the big swim was going from Havana, Cuba to Key West Florida, a distance of 110 miles. Hard enough on paper, but Nyad had completed a 102-mile swim in about 27 hours before. But the Havana-Key West swim involves the Gulf Stream and any number of additional problems. Her first attempt happened in 1978 when she was 28 years old. She made it 76 miles, but veered off course and had to give up, and soon quit distance open water swimming.

But that’s not what Nyad is about. This is about Diana Nyad (Annette Bening), at age 60, trying again, making four attempts over those next few years to swim those 110 miles. She was coached by her friend Bonnie Stoll (Jodie Foster), and aided by navigator John Bartlett (Rhys Ifans) and a huge team of experts. Each time, Nyad encounters problems—injury, attacks from jellyfish, terrible weather, until her fifth and final—and successful—attempt.

Through all of this, we’ll get some of her backstory, including her accusations of molestation of her high school swim coach, something that has been backed up by a number of her high school swim teammates. This hasn’t prevented the coach in question, Jack Nelson (Eric T. Miller) from remaining in the Swimming Hall of Fame. We’ll also get the monomaniacal sense of Nyad’s desire to make this crossing, something that at least for a time blinds her to the efforts and sacrifices put in by the rest of the team. There are moments when she seems to demand that everyone else’s dream be the same has her dream, and that everyone else subsume their own goals and desires for hers.

In truth, I can’t say that Bening didn’t deserve the Best Actress nomination. She is very good in this role, and she plays Diana Nyad with a lot of tenacity. It helps that she actually looks like her a great deal. It’s noteworthy, though, that if you scroll through NetFlix to find this movie, the picture that appears for Nyad is not of Bening, but of Jodie Foster. Foster, for me, is one of the main reasons to watch the film. She’s always worth watching, and in this she is at her absolute best, both resolute and human, both angry and understanding. The same is true of Rhys Ifans. Ifans has often been forced into some second-rate films, but here he demonstrates that he has a good amount of talent and that he should be getting better roles.

Nyad is very much a “triumph of the human spirit” movie, the sort of movie that is supposed to make you feel proud of being a human being. And to be honest, it’s pretty badass. The successful swim took about 53 hours—more than two days of constantly swimming, not leaving the water or being touched in any way by another person, eating by swimming backwards and having someone dump electrolyte sludge into her mouth, and drinking through a tube. The mental and physical privation caused hallucinations and severe physical issues. It’s the very definition of both “hardcore” and “metal.”

Don’t get me wrong; this is a good movie. In fact, as a biopic, it’s focused exactly the way that it should be, and I’m happy about that. If this had been about her dealing with her molest-y swim coach, it wouldn’t be about what makes Diana Nyad the beast that she is, and films like Maestro and The Theory of Everything can take some notes. But, with all of that said, swimming honestly isn’t that exciting to watch.

Why to watch Nyad: Jodie Foster and Rhys Ifans.
Why not to watch: There’s a lot of swimming.


  1. I liked this more than I expected too. It's not exciting, but Bening was great in it.

    1. I think she plays the role the way it's meant to be played, but Foster and Ifans are the best part of it for me.

  2. I might see it eventually but I did hear Jodie Foster is fucking great in this.

    1. It's good. It's not exciting in the way an action movie is, but it's worth seeing.